Where the candidates stand

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The Independent US

ABORTION

What Bush says: Opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the woman's life. Stopped funding international groups involved in abortion. Opposes so-called "partial-birth abortion".

What Kerry says: Supports legal abortion. Would not pick Supreme Court justices who disagreed. Voted against ban on "partial birth" abortion. Said issue is choice between "a woman, God and her doctor".

And the reality: Bush is playing to the religious right and the conservatives, and Kerry is trying to have it both ways by suggesting he is personally opposed to abortion. Clear difference between the two.

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

What Bush says: Supports death penalty. As Governor of Texas oversaw 152 executions, calling it an effective deterrent. Texas and Virginia committed more than 87 per cent of US executions since 1976.

What Kerry says: Opposes death penalty with the exception of terrorists, first candidate since Michael Dukakis in 1988 to make such a stand. Sponsored legislation to impose a moratorium on federal executions.

And the reality: Political analysts say no president can be totally opposed to the death penalty. But although most Americans back execution, there are growing doubts about its fairness in application.

ECONOMY

What Bush says: Championed tax cuts worth billions giving the most to the wealthiest. Turned federal surplus into a record deficit of $521bn. First President for 70 years to see jobs lost.

What Kerry says: Says he would reverse tax cuts for those earning more than $200,000. Promised to halve the deficit in four years, and create 10 million jobs. Backs minimum wage of $7 an hour from $5.15.

And the reality: Bush's most vulnerable area. In 2004, the top 1 per cent get a tax cut of $35,000 and middle-class families get $647. New jobs pay less than jobs that have been lost and rarely have benefits.

EDUCATION

What Bush says: Championed education overhaul that raised standards for teachers, schools and students, known as "No Child Left Behind". Under Bush, federal education spending is up 50 per cent.

What Kerry says: Would provide $27bn to "fully fund" No Child Left Behind Act. Proposes $3.2bn plan for high school students to pay their four-year public college tuition if they perform two years of national service.

And the reality: Bush has raised spending but critics say it is not enough. Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, who worked on education bill, believes Administration sold him short.

ENVIRONMENT

What Bush says: Rejected Kyoto treaty, supported weaker enforcement of Clean Air Act, failed to regulate CO2 emissions. Opened up protected land to logging and mining. Supports oil drilling in Arctic.

What Kerry says: Would "reinsert" US into international environmental treaties. Supports "emissions trading" to make reducing emissions financially attractive to a variety of industries.

And the reality: The Sierra Club rates Bush's environmental record the worst of any president. Clear evidence Bush tried to reward energy companies that supported him financially during the campaign.

FOREIGN POLICY

What Bush says: Stresses that post-11 September, America must take pre-emptive action where it sees danger. Has paid little more than lip service to United Nations. Relations with many European nations very poor.

What Kerry says: Dismisses claims that he would give any other country or body a say in America's security. Says America's actions must meet a "truth standard". "That's how you gain legitimacy in the world."

And the reality: Area in which the two men might be the most different. Bush sees strength in go-it-alone style. Many European nations more likely to help in Iraq if America put effort into coalition-building.

GAY MARRIAGE

What Bush says: Supports constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Supports states passing laws allowing civil unions for gays.

What Kerry says: Personally opposed to gay marriage but says it should be a matter for the individual states. Supports gay civil unions.

And the reality: Kerry probably favours gay marriage but fears saying so; leaving it up to the states is a get-out. Vice-President Dick Cheney, whose daughter is gay, disagrees with the President.

GUN CONTROL

What Bush says: Favours granting gun makers immunity from civil lawsuits. Failed to extend ban on assault weapons. Says he supports background checks at gun shows, but has backed delaying such action.

What Kerry says: Supports extending ban on assault weapons and requiring background checks at gun shows. Opposes granting immunity to gun manufacturers.

And the reality: The National Rifle Association, backing the right to "keep and bear arms", is hugely powerful. Bush is determined not to upset them after they donated $15m to Republicans since 1989.

HEALTH CARE

What Bush says: Proposes tax credits for low earners who take out health insurance. Has introduced prescription drug benefit for elderly people. Now says he supports purchase of cheaper drugs from Canada.

What Kerry says: Proposes opening health care programme for federal employees to all adults, and giving money to states to help reduce number of uninsured children. Wants cheaper drugs from Canada.

And the reality: Other than Iraq and the economy, this may be the most important issue. Kerry should have the edge, saying ordinary Americans should have the same healthcare provisions as members of Congress.

IRAQ

What Bush says: Refuses to concede any error in going to war, despite absence of WMD and poor intelligence. No announced plans for US withdrawal. Points to Iraqi elections. Says liberty is a "gift from the Almighty".

What Kerry says: Voted to authorise war in October 2002, then voted against additional $87bn funding. Said it was the "wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place". No plan to withdraw troops soon.

And the reality: Kerry's 2002 vote was a huge error from which he has struggled to recover. But Bush has not lost much support over war which has led to death of more than 1,000 troops and thousands of civilians.

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