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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all