Santa Fe, N.M. Bracing for their final debate, John Kerry accused President Bush of favoring "friends in the oil industry" over consumers strapped with rising fuel bills on Monday, while Bush said his challenger so misunderstood the war on terror that he thought it could be reduced to "a nuisance" akin to prostitution or illegal gambling.
Both candidates campaigned in the west ahead of their third presidential debate, which will take place Wednesday night at Arizona State University in Tempe. Kerry focused on domestic issues, the subject of that debate, and criticized Bush and the Republican-led Congress for not doing more to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil.
Bush mixed domestic policy with national security, criticizing Kerry as a tax-and-spend liberal while questioning anew the Democrat's fitness to lead the war against terror.
At a rally in Hobbs, N.M., the Republican incumbent ridiculed Kerry for saying in an interview in The New York Times Magazine, "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives but they're a nuisance."
In the interview published Sunday, Kerry compared the anti-terror battle with efforts by law enforcement to root out prostitution or illegal gambling, knowing such an activity could never be ended but could be reduced to where "it isn't threatening people's lives every day." He cited his experience as a former prosecutor.
"I couldn't disagree more," Bush said. "Our goal is not to reduce terror to some acceptable level of nuisance. Our goal is to defeat terror by staying on the offensive."
The Bush campaign also takes on the "nuisance" comment in a new television ad. Phil Singer, a Kerry-Edwards spokesman, said the Republicans took Kerry's single sentence out of context. "Considering that George Bush doesn't think we can win the war on terror, let Osama bin Laden escape and rushed into Iraq with no plan to win the peace, it's no surprise that his campaign is distorting every word John Kerry has ever said," he said.
Kerry, in Santa Fe, said record oil prices, which have propelled gasoline to over $2 a gallon in many places, "means a lot more profit for this president's friends in the oil industry. But for most middle-class Americans, the Bush tax increase is a tax increase that they can't afford."
He complained that Congress was ending "another session without passing a good energy bill for America." Administration-backed legislation, which includes a variety of tax and other incentives to encourage more domestic energy production, has been blocked chiefly by Democrats.