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Campaign roundup: Bush, Kerry exchange long-distance jabs, race through Midwest
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Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry speaks during a rally near the State Capitol Thursday in Madison, Wisconsin. Tens of thousands of people showed up for the rally, which also featured singer Bruce Springsteen. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Madison, Wis. — (AP) - In a stinging exchange, President Bush criticized Democratic challenger John Kerry as "the wrong man for the wrong job at the wrong time" on Thursday while the Massachusetts senator accused his rival of constantly ducking responsibility for his own actions.

For the fourth consecutive day, Kerry assailed Bush over the disclosure that nearly 400 tons of explosives were missing in Iraq, and said the Republican president's attempt to compare himself to John F. Kennedy was off the mark.

"When the Bay of Pigs went sour, John Kennedy had the courage to look America in the eye and say, `I take responsibility, it's my fault," Kerry said, referring to a bungled invasion of Cuba in 1961. "John Kennedy knew how to take responsibility for the mistakes he made and Mr. President, it's long since time for you to start taking responsibility for the mistakes you made."

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Image Kerry with Springsteen

The two men raced from one Midwestern state to another in the closing days of their close, contentious campaign for the White House. The polls, ubiquitous as they were, were of little use in forecasting the outcome of the election. Over and over, they made the race out to be a statistical tie, and battleground states too close to call.

Bush began his day in Saginaw, Mich., with an unstinting attack on Kerry.

"A president cannot blow in the wind," he said of Kerry. "Senator Kerry has taken a lot of different positions, but he's rarely taken a stand," Bush said. "Consistency is not the senator's strong suit."

Kerry campaigned first in Ohio, arguably the key to victory next Tuesday.

A Red Sox cap perched on his head, he recalled that last year when his campaign was struggling, a caller to a radio program said, "John Kerry won't be president until the Red Sox win the World Series."

"Well, we're on our way," he said to cheers.

Bush had his own World Series tie-in. Interviewed on ABC, Boston pitcher Curt Schilling urged viewers to vote for the president.

Kerry's crowd was raucous, so noisy that at one point he said, "I hope George Bush can hear that - that is the rumble of change comin' at him."

Kerry has turned the issue of missing explosives into a major focus of his campaign this week, and his running mate joined in.

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Image Bush in Michigan

"They had a responsibility to secure this material," Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina said on NBC's "Today" on Thursday. "It was important for securing Iraq, it was important for the safety of our troops, it was important for keeping that material out of the hands of terrorists. And what we know is, they didn't do it."

Bush sought to turn the controversy to his own advantage. He said his rival was showing a "complete disregard for the facts. Senator Kerry will say anything to get elected," the president said.

Bush's campaign surrogates rallied to his defense.

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, said the troops in Iraq, not the president, bore the responsibility for searching for the explosives, and he said no one knows if any mistakes were made.

"John Kerry wants to pretend we do know what happened," Giuliani told "Today." "We don't know what happened. The best possibility is that those explosives were gone even before the troops got there ... at least it's an equal possibility. John Kerry hasn't admitted that. Instead, John Kerry became an attack dog."

Bush was stumping in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, in the reverse order of a Pennsylvania-Ohio-Michigan swing Wednesday that was capped by an early evening crowd of close to 20,000 at the Pontiac, Mich., Silverdome, one of the best turnouts of his campaign. Kerry was focusing on Ohio and Wisconsin before swinging south to spend Friday in Florida.

Kerry was keeping up his drumbeat of criticism over the circumstances surrounding the explosives in Iraq.

"The missing explosives could very likely be in the hands of terrorists and insurgents, who are actually attacking our forces now 80 times a day on average," he said in Iowa on Wednesday.

The president struck back by saying the senator simply did not know what happened there.

"A political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not a person you want as your commander in chief," Bush told supporters Wednesday.

Kerry retorted on Thursday, "Mr. President, I agree with you." He then recited a list of times he said Bush had been guilty of just that.

Polls suggest Bush and Kerry are running even not only in Iowa and Michigan, but in an improbable variety of other battleground states and nationally as well. Bush pressed hard for crossover votes.

"If you're a Democrat, and your dreams and goals are not found in the far left wing of the Democrat party, I'd be honored to have your vote," he said at several appearances.

In Iraq, U.S. military maneuvers including stepped-up air strikes raised the prospect of a decisive showdown with insurgents in Fallujah and neighboring Ramadi. The goal would be to restore government control for the Iraqi national elections by the end of January.

Vice President Dick Cheney said Wednesday night in Wisconsin that the terrorists and insurgents "know once those elections are held, they're out of business. They've said as much" in "communications that we've captured between Zarqawi and the bin Laden crowd." Cheney was referring to terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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