Campaign Dogged by Terror Fight
By ADAM NAGOURNEY and DAVID M. HALBFINGER
Published: August 2, 2004
BOWLING GREEN, Ohio, Aug. 1 - John Kerry was supposed to spend Sunday
traveling through small-town Ohio and Michigan, going to church and
talking at rallies. But by afternoon, his campaign was also searching
northern Ohio for a secure telephone line so Mr. Kerry could squeeze in
a briefing on an issue that was overtaking the day: the terrorist threat
announced in Washington.
Three days after he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, Mr.
Kerry, along with President Bush, received a bracing reminder about how
the fear of another terrorist attack on American soil had shaped the
contest and about how the most pivotal thing that could happen between
now and Election Day was beyond the control of either campaign.
Campaign aides said they could not recall a contest fought against such
an uncertain and unsettling backdrop since 1968, when Richard M. Nixon
and Hubert H. Humphrey battled as an increasingly bloody war was being
waged in Vietnam, polarizing Americans at home.
"In a campaign there are things you can control, and things you can't
control," said Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Mr. Kerry. "You have to
spend as much time as humanly possible worrying about the things you can
control. We don't sit around all day talking about what color the terror
Yet the issue has charged the atmosphere, influencing everything Mr.
Bush and Mr. Kerry do these days, as was particularly clear at Mr.
Kerry's nominating convention last week.
News of the terror threat on Sunday also stirred renewed suggestions
from some Democrats that the White House was manipulating terror alerts
for Mr. Bush's political gain. They said the alert had been issued just
as Mr. Kerry emerged from a convention that was described by Republicans
and Democrats as a success.
"I am concerned that every time something happens that's not good for
President Bush, he plays this trump card, which is terrorism," Howard
Dean, a former rival of Mr. Kerry for the Democratic nomination, told
Wolf Blitzer on CNN on Sunday.
"His whole campaign is based on the notion that 'I can keep you safe,
therefore at times of difficulty for America stick with me,' and then
out comes Tom Ridge," Mr. Dean, the former Vermont governor, added,
referring to the homeland security secretary. "It's just impossible to
know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics, and I
suspect there's some of both in it."
White House officials denied that suggestion, and other Democrats and
Mr. Kerry's advisers would not embrace it. "I certainly hope not," Steve
Elmendorf, Mr. Kerry's deputy campaign manager, said. "You have to take
them at their word."
But aides on both sides say they are thinking about how the elevated
alert level affects the election and about the possibility of an actual
terrorist attack as they try to discuss the political repercussions of
terrorism without being accused of doing anything as crass as discussing
the political repercussions of terrorism.
Mr. Kerry's aides said he immediately embraced the security
recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission and criticized Mr. Bush for
being slow in his response, in part because of the possibility of more
alerts or, worse, an actual attack.
Mr. Bush's campaign advisers have made clear that every reminder of a
threat from abroad is also a reminder for voters of what they like about
Mr. Bush and stirs what polls have shown to be one of voters' biggest
reservations about Mr. Kerry.
Going into the Democratic convention, polling showed voters were much
more likely to trust the nation's security to Mr. Bush than Mr. Kerry.
Mr. Bush is preparing to issue orders, perhaps as early as Monday, to
put in place some of the changes recommended by the Sept. 11 commission.
That is likely to put him at the center of the news, which was dominated
last week by the Democrats' convention.
But as Election Day approaches, the political ramifications of the
threat from terrorism are not as clear as they were even a year ago.
For one thing, Mr. Bush has been challenged over the past six months by
reports from two commissions that have examined antiterrorism policies.
Mr. Kerry has begun to seize on those reports to try to undercut Mr.
Bush on the subject.
For another, a terror threat is much more sobering to those who live in
New York and Washington, which includes much of the nation's political
and news media ranks. At the same time some Democrats wondered Sunday
whether Americans, after hearing so many of these threats, might begin
to disregard them.
Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, said in an interview that
the focus on continuing threats, three years after Sept. 11, was
evidence that Mr. Bush was highly vulnerable on this issue.
"I think this is one of the sleeper issues of this campaign," Mr.
Schumer said. "It's one where Kerry can show strength and at the same
time show that this administration hasn't really thought through the war
There were signs of concern and confusion in both the Kerry and Bush
campaigns on Sunday over how, or whether, to talk about the latest turn
of events. Mr. Bush's aides did not respond to requests for comments,
while Mr. Kerry's generally resisted talking on the record.
Mr. Kerry learned of the terror alert from James P. Rubin, a senior
adviser and former State Department official. Mr. Rubin had received a
call from Frances Townsend, the president's homeland security adviser.
At the time, Mr. Kerry was aboard his campaign bus, between stops to
attend church and briefly shake hands with supporters in a shopping
center parking lot in Springfield, Ohio. But he did not address the
Kerry Plans No More Troops in Iraq
BOWLING GREEN, Ohio, Aug 1 (Reuters) - Mr. Kerry said Sunday that he did
not anticipate sending more American troops to Iraq and hoped to bring
"significant numbers" home during his first term.
Mr. Kerry said, "I would consider it an unsuccessful policy if I hadn't
brought significant numbers of troops back within the first term. And I
will do that."
He made the rounds of the television talk programs while on a bus trip
through swing states.
Adam Nagourney reported from Washington for this article and David M.
Halbfinger from Ohio.