Bush and Kerry exchange blows over military service

With the final echoes of the Republican convention barely faded, George Bush and John Kerry traded fierce blows in a neck-and-neck battle set to continue at fever pitch until election day on 2 November.

An hour after the President had wrapped up his acceptance speech in Madison Square Garden on Thursday, his Democratic challenger angrily hit back at a midnight rally in the swing state of Ohio, rebutting Republican charges that he was unfit to be commander-in-chief.

Breaking with the tradition - and with his own restraint on the war service issue - Mr Kerry lashed out at Mr Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney for their attacks on his military qualifications, having avoided going to Vietnam themselves.

Banishing all doubt that this will be an uncommonly nasty campaign, the Massachusetts senator, five times decorated in Vietnam, told supporters that he would not have "my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have, and who misled America into Iraq".

"The Vice-President called me unfit for office last night," Mr Kerry told the rally in Springfield, Ohio, with his running mate, John Edwards, beside him. "I'm going to leave it up to the voters to decide whether five deferments [obtained by Mr Cheney over Vietnam] make someone more qualified than two tours of duty."

Many Democrats were delighted at the counter-offensive, having grown increasingly impatient with Mr Kerry's passivity in the face of the attacks on his military record, amid the fear that the political initiative was slipping from him. But Republicans claimed that Mr Kerry was playing into their hands, expending time and energy to deal with a peripheral issue.

Mr Bush, who himself went straight from the cheers in New York to the battleground state of Pennsylvania, received some welcome good news on the economic front yesterday, with a fall in the unemployment rate and a solid increase in the number of new jobs in August.

According to the Labour Department, the overall unemployment rate dipped to 5.4 per cent from 5.5 per cent, while the economy created 144,000 new jobs last month - a vast improvement from the anaemic 32,000 generated in July.

Mr Bush seized on the figures, boasting that the economy had added 1.7m jobs since August 2003, and arguing that the economy was back on track after faltering earlier in the summer. But the Massachusetts senator was unimpressed.

A million jobs had been lost under Mr Bush, he asserted. "This President is now certain to be the first since the Great Depression to face re-election without creating a single job. If lost jobs mean that America is heading in the right direction, you should support George Bush and his policies of failure." The jobs failure meant that Mr Bush himself was unfit for office, the Massachusetts senator said.

Yesterday, the two candidates criss-crossed some of the handful of battleground states that are likely to decide the election. After a boisterous appearance in Pennsylvania, the President travelled on to Iowa and Wisconsin, both states carried by Al Gore in 2000 but which are a dead heat this time around.

The frantic pace will continue until election day. The most recent polls, taken before the Republican convention, show the race neck-and-neck. But the impetus has clearly been with the President, not least thanks to the blizzard of attack ads by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth independent group, querying Mr Kerry's war record.

Although those charges have been largely discredited, the group has now taken aim in new ads at Mr Kerry's about-turn after his return from Vietnam, when he became a vociferous leader of the anti-war campaign, accusing American troops in south-east Asia of committing war crimes.

The focus now will be on the three scheduled presidential debates, the first of them to be held in Florida on 30 September.

Florida, braced yesterday for its second major hurricane in three weeks, remains desperately close-fought this year, after the dead heat between Mr Bush and Mr Gore in 2000. The conventional wisdom is that without Florida, which he carried by 537 votes years ago, Mr Bush will lose in November. Conversely, unless Mr Kerry hangs on to Pennsylvania with its 23 electoral votes, he will be unable to win. Completing the troika of crucial states is Ohio, without which no Republican has ever won his way into the White House. Mr Bush narrowly carried the state in 2000, but Democrats believe and hope that heavy job losses in the state's manufacturing sector could tip the balance of power to Mr Kerry.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
News
London's New Year's Eve fireworks event is going to be ticketed this year for the first time at £10 a head
news

Revellers will have to pay to see New Year's Eve fireworks in London

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

News
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable
science

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Life and Style
tech

Try putting that one on your Christmas list
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

German & French Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are curren...

Experienced Cover Supervisors Needed

£55 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education have cover s...

**** Calling All NQT's ****

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Are you a Newly Qualified Teac...

Cover Supervising Roles Longridge

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Preston: A mainstream secondary school i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week