Cincinnati Sen. John Kerry escalated his attacks Wednesday on President Bush's conduct of the war in Iraq, saying it cost $200 billion that America needs for schools, health care and other domestic needs.
Speaking at the Cincinnati museum where Bush laid out his rationale for the war nearly two years ago, Kerry said the president's "wrong choices" on Iraq had "left America without the resources we need so desperately here at home."
With war costs mounting, the federal deficit has soared to new heights while Bush has shortchanged job training, veterans' health care and aid to local police, Kerry told about 750 supporters.
"When I'm president, America will once again stand up to our enemies without destroying or denying our best hopes here at home," he said.
In casting the war as a costly misadventure that has harmed Americans in their day-to-day lives, Kerry sought to reframe the Iraq debate in a way that shifts attention to domestic matters. Polls generally have found voters give Kerry the edge over Bush in dealing with jobs and health care, but the president is given higher marks on waging the war against terrorism and other national security issues.
Kerry's Wednesday speech also seemed aimed at regaining the offensive on Iraq after facing scathing attacks from Bush and his allies over what they portray as the Democrat's shifting positions on the war. The charge of inconsistency on Iraq is at the core of Bush's broader argument that Kerry lacks strong principles, waffles on key issues and cannot be trusted to lead the country.
Campaigning in Rochester, Minn., after his speech in Cincinnati, Kerry said he had been "absolutely consistent" on Iraq. "I simply have not changed my position one bit," he told a Minneapolis television station.
Kerry voted in October 2002 to authorize the use of military force in Iraq. But since then, he has criticized Bush's use of that authority, saying the president gave inspectors too little time to search for banned weapons in Iraq, failed to build a broad coalition of allies to fight Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and rushed to war with no plan to manage the aftermath.
Nonetheless, Kerry said last month that he still would have voted to authorize the war even if he had known then about the apparent lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
In a new television ad, Kerry also sought to draw a link between the costs of the war in Iraq and Bush's domestic record. The ad started airing Wednesday in several of the most closely contested states in this year's presidential race.
"George Bush -- $200 billion for Iraq," a narrator says in the spot. "In America, lost jobs and rising health care costs. George Bush's wrong choices have weakened us here at home."
In response to Kerry's speech, Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said the Democrat had "made the transformation from a candidate on both sides of Iraq to a candidate who is completely incoherent on Iraq."
"John Kerry has given 12 major speeches on Iraq," Schmidt said, "and the American people still have no idea where he stands."