President hopes message on terrorism resonates in New Jersey
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush focused on the task of protecting the country, signing legislation Monday to fund the Department of Homeland Security and heralding his battle plan for fighting terrorists as better than rival Sen. John Kerry’s.
With a little more than two weeks before Election Day, the president was campaigning on Monday in New Jersey, a state hit hard when terrorists struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
He unveiled a new TV ad that portrays Kerry as weak on terrorism – “either we fight terrorists abroad or face them here” – and accuses the Democrat of opposing President Reagan “as he won the Cold War.”
Nearly 700 New Jersey residents died when hijacked airplanes flew into the World Trade Center’s twin towers, and polls show national security and terrorism are the top campaign issues among voters in the state.
Democrat Al Gore easily won New Jersey in 2000, but voters’ worry about another terrorist attack is a key reason why Bush and Kerry are locked in a tight race for the state’s 15 electoral votes.
“From a lot of places in New Jersey you could see the Towers,” Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political adviser, told reporters at a weekend campaign rally in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“A lot of people in New Jersey, a lot of communities in New Jersey felt personally the sting of 9/11. I think that has made them more sensitive – as we get close to the end – about the question of who will make America safer.”
You can’t see downtown Manhattan from Marlton, a city in southern New Jersey where Bush will speak, but it’s within the Philadelphia media market and Pennsylvania is a state where the candidates are competing head-to-head too.
Kerry adviser Joe Lockhart says New Jersey is an interesting place for the president to campaign because its two senators and former Gov. Thomas Kean, chairman of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission, have complained that Bush hasn’t done enough to push the panel’s recommendations into law.
Before leaving for New Jersey, Bush signed a bill giving the Department of Homeland Security about $33 billion for the budget year that began Oct. 1.
The tab was nearly $900 million more than Bush requested of Congress. It included $1.1 billion in grants to states based on population, $400 million more than he wanted. But its $875 million for cities considered attractive targets for terrorists was nearly $600 million below Bush’s request. In addition, it provided $3.6 billion for police and other emergency responders – about $500 million less than last year’s total.
The bill signing dovetailed with Bush’s New Jersey terrorism speech in which campaign officials said he would again mock Kerry’s comments on terrorism in a New York Times Magazine article Oct. 10.
“We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance,” the Massachusetts senator said.
To appear as the tougher candidate on terrorism, Bush has been telling supporters at rallies that he couldn’t disagree more. “Our goal is not to reduce terror to some acceptable level of nuisance,” he says. “Our goal is to defeat terror by staying on the offensive.”
Also Monday morning, Bush congratulated members of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams in a ceremony on the South Lawn.