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Kerry Admits Clumsy Words On Iraq

On the eve of a foreign policy debate with President Bush, Democratic Sen. John Kerry acknowledged that his explanation of why he voted in favor of additional funding for the war in Iraq before voting against it was "one of those inarticulate moments" in the campaign.

Kerry ultimately voted against providing $87 billion for military operations and aid in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although he initially supported the appropriation when it was to be funded at least in part by rolling back tax cuts for those with the highest incomes, Kerry said he ended up voting against the final version of the bill in the Senate as a protest over its funding, which included no-bid contracts.

President Bush has criticized Kerry throughout the campaign for the vote, which Mr. Bush says shows a lack of support for troops in the field. The president has mocked Kerry for saying, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."

"It was just a very inarticulate way of saying something and I had one of those inarticulate moments," Kerry said in an interview broadcast Wednesday on "Good Morning America" on ABC. "But it reflects the truth of the position ... I thought that the wealthiest people of America should share in that burden. It was a protest."

Kerry rejected the president's assertion that he would prefer that Saddam Hussein still be in power in Iraq and repeated his contention that Mr. Bush had misled the nation about the nature of the threat the Iraqi dictator posed.

"We should not have gone to war knowing the information that we know today," Kerry told ABC. "Knowing there was no imminent threat to America, knowing there were no weapons of mass destruction, knowing there was no connection of Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda, I would not have gone to war. That's plain and simple."

Kerry voted to authorize Mr. Bush to use force against Iraq and has said he would still vote for authorization so that the president could put pressure on Saddam to allow more inspections for weapons. However, the Bush campaign characterizes Kerry's position as an example of vacillation and indecision.

Kerry's remarks come one day before he and Mr. Bush meet in Florida for the first of three debates considered crucial in the race for the White House.

Kerry was heading to Miami later Wednesday after three days preparing for the debate at a secluded Wisconsin golf resort.

Mr. Bush was surveying hurricane damage Wednesday in Lake Wales, Fla., a fast-growing swing area in the center of the state, on his way to Miami.

Both candidates are eyeing Florida, where the close 2000 election was decided in Mr. Bush's favor by just 537 votes. Polls show a close race in Florida, but few have confidence in the results with telephone outages due to six recent hurricanes and people living away from their damaged homes.

"Most political pundits won't dare to forecast the outcome of this state," said Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida.

Mr. Bush asked Congress late Monday for more than $7.1 billion to help Florida and other Southeastern states recover from the storms. It was Mr. Bush's third request for supplemental storm aid.

Congress approved his first request for $2 billion and is considering his second, for $3.1 billion, which would bring the total bill to more than $12 billion. The government will have to borrow money to pay for the packages, adding to the federal deficit.

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Scott Maddox has accused the president of traveling to Florida on taxpayer money so he can be seen in the important election state. The trip will be Mr. Bush's 29th to Florida as president.

Asked whether there was any political motivation to the aid requests or the damage tours, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Tuesday: "This is a time for all of us to come together and support the people of Florida during these difficult times. That's what this is about. It's about helping them respond and recover from the damage of these storms."