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Monday, August 23, 2004 - Page updated at 10:55 A.M.
Bush urges end to TV attack ads by outside groups, whatever their target
By Pete Yost
"I think they're bad for the system," he said.
The president made his comments as the Kerry campaign fought back against charges made by an outside group that the Democratic senator had lied about wartime events in Vietnam for which he received five medals.
In a conference call with reporters arranged by aides to the Democratic presidential candidate, Navy swift boat officers Rich McCann, Jim Russell and Rich Baker said Kerry acted honorably and bravely and was well qualified to be the nation's commander in chief.
"He was the most aggressive officer in charge of swift boats," Baker said.
Additionally, crewmate Del Sandusky said at a news conference in Harrisburg, Pa., that he personally witnessed the battle action for which Kerry received Silver and Bronze stars and two of his three Purple Hearts.
"He deserved every one of his medals," Sandusky, a retired computer repairman who drove Kerry's boat for nearly three months.
The attack on Kerry's war record has dominated the presidential campaign in the days since Swift Boat Veterans For Truth began airing its commercial in three states.
With polls suggesting Kerry's standing was beginning to slip at least among veterans the Democrat last week called on Bush to call for the ads to be pulled from the air. He also accused Bush of allowing front groups to "do his dirty work."
Bush's campaign heatedly denied any connection with the anti-Kerry group, and called on the Democratic challenger to join the president in a call for all outside groups to pull their ads.
Underscoring the impact of the anti-Kerry ad, the Democratic National Committee began airing a commercial last week that offered a testimonial to Kerry's fitness for national command.
And in a shift in strategy, Kerry's campaign has responded with two commercials, despite plans to preserve its campaign funds for the general election campaign.
Kerry running mate John Edwards said Sunday that Bush needed to tell the veterans group to pull its anti-Kerry ads. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona has said the tactics are the same kind used on him and asked the president to denounce them.
The White House says it denounces all attack ads against both candidates by outside groups, while refusing to get specific about condemning the veterans group's advertising.
"The president ... and (political adviser) Karl Rove have flipped back to the well-worn smear page of their campaign playbook, last used against John McCain in 2000," Kerry's campaign said in a statement Sunday. Voters want to hear about the issues, "not lies and smears, and it's time the president realized that."
A new Kerry campaign ad says Bush smeared McCain four years ago and "Now, he's doing it to John Kerry."
A former Vietnam prisoner of war, McCain lost the South Carolina Republican primary in 2000 after Bush supporters accused him of opposing legislation to help military veterans. McCain never recovered from that primary loss.
Former Sen. Bob Dole, a World War II veteran and 1996 Republican presidential nominee, suggested Kerry apologize for his 1971 testimony to Congress about atrocities U.S. soldiers allegedly committed in Vietnam.
Dole, who has a disabled right arm from war wounds, said Kerry received an early exit from combat for "superficial wounds." He called on the nominee to release all of his Vietnam service records.
Dole told CNN's "Late Edition" in relation to Kerry: "I respect his record. But three Purple Hearts and never bled that I know of. I mean, they're all superficial wounds. Three Purple Hearts and you're out."
Crewmate Sandusky said today, "I was there when he got wounded. I saw the blood. I don't care what Dole said."
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