Trailing in Polls, Kerry Tries New Strategy

Wagner was taking the next logical step in a Democratic assault that began in its most comprehensive fashion Thursday night. The impetus for the new aggressiveness occurred Thursday morning when Kerry — reading newspaper clips about the Republican National Convention in his Nantucket, Mass., vacation home — became angered by a Washington Post headline describing Cheney's speech to the convention. The headline suggested Cheney called Kerry "unfit" to be president, though Cheney never actually used that precise word in his speech.

Nonetheless, the word rankled the decorated Vietnam veteran — and it did not escape his notice that Unfit for Command is the title of longtime Kerry nemesis John O'Neill's bestseller, which slams Kerry's military record.

So just minutes after Bush finished his speech, Kerry appeared at a rally in Springfield in which he said he "will 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."

Kerry continued the assault Friday at a rally in Newark, slamming Cheney for avoiding military service during Vietnam. He told the crowd, "I'll let you and the American people decide whether five deferments makes you more 'unfit' than two tours of duty."

Kerry did not use the same line of attack Saturday morning; a Kerry campaign official said, "We want this debate to be about issues. But we will not hesitate to go full-throttle if the president wants to have that debate."

But even while Kerry and his surrogates are aggressively challenging why Bush and Cheney did not serve in the Vietnam War, Kerry has unmistakably changed the focus of his speeches away from national security.

Domestic Focus

While Kerry once made foreign policy, terrorism and homeland security major parts of his stump speech, he has shifted to a focus on bread-and-butter domestic issues — the economy, health care and education.

At a "front porch" event in Newark on Friday morning, Kerry teed off on the new job creation numbers, which indicated only modest job growth last month. "The president wants you to re-elect him for what?" Kerry asked. "Losing jobs?"

The state of Ohio has lost 230,000 jobs since Bush took office, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and next week in Newark, a local factory — The Longaberger Co. — is expected to lay off another 784 people. In total, Longaberger, which makes handcrafted baskets and home and lifestyle products including pottery, employs approximately 3,500 fewer workers today than it did three years ago.

On Saturday, Kerry called economic issues and jobs, "the most important part of this race," and charged that in Bush's Thursday night acceptance speech at the GOP convention, "the president mentioned jobs once. Once."

The president's speech actually contained 11 mentions of the word "jobs."

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