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Monday, September 20, 2004

New York Times > THE DEMOCRATIC RUNNING MATE Taking the Offensive, Edwards Says a Kerry Administration Would 'Crush' Al QaedaBy RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD

Published: September 20, 2004
JOHNSTOWN, Pa., Sept. 19 - Opening a weeklong Democratic offensive on Iraq and terror, Senator John Edwards promised Sunday that a Kerry White House would eliminate what he called a "backdoor draft'' of Reservists and National Guard members and would "crush'' Al Qaeda.
On a day when he alone among the presidential and vice-presidential candidates campaigned, Mr. Edwards, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, added fresh elements to his standard remarks on war and terror, two subjects that polls suggest rank at the top of voter concerns.
Mr. Edwards's comments came as Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, promised a new salvo this week against the Bush administration's Iraq policy.
Mr. McAuliffe, in a conference call with reporters on Sunday, said that Mr. Kerry would deliver a major speech on Iraq on Monday and would criticize President Bush's handing of the war in a new advertisement, and that party officials would hold a news conference with mothers of soldiers stationed in Iraq.
A senior Kerry adviser said the speech would address "what needs to be done" but would not present a point-by-point exit plan.
The advertisement, to be shown in unspecified battleground states, features the candidate saying: "Two hundred billion dollars. That is what we are spending in Iraq because George Bush chose to go it alone. Now the president tells us we don't have the resources to take care of health care and education here at home. That's wrong. As president, I'll stop at nothing to get the terrorists before they get us. But I'll also fight to build a stronger middle class. That's the difference in this election. I believe the next president must do both: defend America and fight for the middle class.''
Mr. Edwards, at a rally in the Philadelphia suburb of Phoenixville, condemned a remark by Representative H. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, the speaker of the House, who suggested Saturday that Al Qaeda might find it easier to strike if Mr. Kerry were in office.
Mr. Edwards said the remark was part of a pattern of Republican "fear mongering."
"Let me just say this in the simplest possible terms," Mr. Edwards said. "When John Kerry is president of the United States, we will find Al Qaeda where they are and crush them before they can do damage to the American people."
Later, at a boisterous rally here, Mr. Edwards accused the administration of concealing plans for a large call-up of National Guard and Reserve troops after the election. Mr. Kerry had made the same charge on Friday.
Bush administration officials called the suggestion patently false, but Representative John P. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat who is a ranking member of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, has said Pentagon sources told him it was so. Mr. Edwards campaigned with Mr. Murtha here on Sunday afternoon.
Both Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kerry have said that extended deployments of Reservists and National Guard troops in Iraq beyond their normal tours of duty amount to a form of conscription and are taking a large toll on their families.
"Let me tell you, I want you to tell all your friends here in Pennsylvania, when John Kerry is president of the United States, we're going to get rid of this backdoor draft," Mr. Edwards said. "We're not going to continue to have people coming in the back door."
In recent days Mr. Edwards has sought to critique the Bush administration more aggressively and answer its attacks. The shift came after some Democrats questioned whether the ticket was hitting back hard enough on Republican charges and whether Mr. Edwards's national profile was high enough. Mr. Edwards made three stops in Pennsylvania, a state Al Gore won in 2000, but where polls suggest the race is tight. Mr. Bush plans to visit the state on Wednesday and Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday.
Both parties see places like Phoenixville, a former steel town in the southeastern corner of the state, and Johnstown, an industrial center in the southwest where Mr. Edwards also spoke, as prime targets because voters there have not hewed strongly to party lines recently.
Earlier, at a predominantly black church in Philadelphia, Mr. Edwards cautioned that the next president would probably make appointments to the Supreme Court and said such appointments would be pivotal to protecting affirmative action.
"We don't want the cause of justice to be hanging by a thread, do we?" he asked.
Jodi Wilgoren contributed reporting from Boston for this article.

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