Sun, Oct 03, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Bush takes pot shots at soaring Kerry campaign

DAMAGE CONTROL The US president, smarting after losing the first of three presidential debates, on Friday took issue with many of his rival's opinions

AGENCIES , ORLANDO, FLORIDA AND MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE

In 24 hours, John Kerry's political braintrust went from talking up a stumbling campaign, to playing down soaring hopes after pundits and polls handed him the first presidential debate.

Meanwhile, US President George W. Bush accused Kerry of new contradictions and ridiculed his call for a international summit on Iraq on Friday as he sought to rebound from the debate.

Nielsen Media Research said yesterday that more than 62 million US viewers tuned in to the first of three presidential debates, making it the most watched since 1992.

Viewership surpassed the first debate four years ago between Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore by nearly 16 million, the ratings firm said.

The viewer figures underscore voters' high level of interest in this year's presidential election.

On Friday, Bush swept into two battleground states, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, and many of his jabs against Kerry sounded like what he wished he had said at the Miami encounter on Thursday night.

Articulate

Bush advisers conceded that Kerry gave an articulate performance -- "a slick debater," in the words of one -- after snap polls taken after the debate showed Kerry won the first of three debates.

Bush took issue with many of Kerry's positions and wasted little time in aggressively attacking them, particularly his pledge that, if elected, he would call a summit to seek more international help on Iraq.

"I've been to a lot of summits. I've never seen a meeting that would depose a tyrant or bring a terrorist to justice," Bush said at a rally in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Traveling with Bush was Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, a one-time Bush rival who considers Kerry a friend on the other side of the aisle. McCain said Kerry had handled the debate well and Bush should not underestimate him in the next two.

But he differed with Kerry on trying to get more international support in Iraq. "We're not going to get additional support. The burden is going to be carried by the Americans, and the British and our other coalition partners."

McCain said Kerry's call for direct US talks with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program was a failed policy from the previous Clinton administration. Bush prefers six-party talks involving China.

And in both Allentown and Manchester, Bush lashed out at Kerry's contention that the US had the right to take preemptive action abroad if it "passes the global test."

Bush promised to work with US allies and the international community, "But I will never submit America's national security to an international test. The use of troops to defend America must never be subject to a veto by countries like France."

Kerry spokesman Phil Singer responded that "the global test is not asking for a permission slip. It's making sure that your decisions stand up to scrutiny and are backed by facts."

Bush advisers also dismissed Democrats who drew attention to the way Bush scowled and looked irritated at times when Kerry was speaking.

"That wasn't irritated. I know irritated," said senior Bush adviser Karl Rove. Instead, he said Bush was "pensive" and "focused."

The veteran senator's strong showing in the nailbiting faceoff against Bush injected a palpable jolt of enthusiasm through his camp.

Activists, supporters and jaded campaign workers, who endured a miserable six weeks while Bush pounded Kerry over Iraq, looked to the sprint up to the Nov. 2 polls with new hope.

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