Democratic White House candidate John Kerry blasted President George W. Bush's economic stewardship on Saturday and declared in the Texan's own backyard, "Houston, we've got a problem."
During a Southern swing through four states -- Texas, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana -- that hold primary contests next week, Kerry said Bush had produced a "barrel of broken promises" on jobs, health care and the federal budget.
At a rally in San Antonio, he accused the president of telling "tall Texas tales."
"He's trying to suggest -- he says to Americans, `you elect John Kerry, he's going to raise your taxes,'" the Massachusetts senator said. "That's the old scare tactic. I hope this early in the campaign he's not running so scared he's already got to run from the truth."
Kerry was on his first trip since he won nine out of a possible 10 states on Super Tuesday and drove his only major competitor, North Carolina Senator John Edwards, from the race.
In San Antonio, and earlier in Houston, he took several Texas-related swipes at Bush, who was born in Connecticut, but moved to the state when he was a toddler.
"If George Bush can move in, so can you," he told one newcomer.
When another lamented the fact that the president would return to Texas to live if he lost to Kerry on Nov. 2, the senator shot back: "Well every state has its burden."
Bush, who was at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, about 320km from Houston holding talks with Mexican President Vicente Fox, told reporters he was the best candidate to handle the economy despite job losses under his watch.
"Didn't he [Bush] promise 4 million jobs would be created with those tax cuts?" a raspy-voiced Kerry asked during a town hall meeting at Houston Community College.
"We lost 3 million ... 2.8 million Americans have lost their health care, he promised he was going to reduce the debt of our country by US$1 trillion and he's added US$1 trillion to the debt of our country," Kerry said.
"As the phrase goes, `Houston, we've got a problem.'" He was referring to the now-legendary report of trouble aboard the US Apollo 13 lunar mission in 1970.
Kerry has promised to roll back Bush's tax cuts for Americans earning more than US$200,000 a year, but supports targeted middle-class tax cuts for college, child care and health care.
He said he would cut the federal budget deficit in half in four years. He has also proposed US$50 billion for states to create jobs, tax credits for manufacturing, closing tax loopholes and cracking down on trade violations.
Bush and his allies have portrayed Kerry as an elitist Massachusetts liberal and a chronic waffler.
Republican Representative Henry Bonilla of Texas said Kerry's fiscal policies would damage the state's economic momentum and pointed to "inconsistent stances" as evidence that the four-term senator lacked "the decisiveness to lead in difficult times."
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