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With presidential candidates elsewhere, surrogates take up Minnesota campaign
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Rudy Guiliani campaigned with state Republican leaders in St. Paul. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
It was a rare day with no candidates from the presidential tickets in the state on Friday. Still, surrogates for President Bush and John Kerry showed up to rally supporters. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani campaigned in Minnesota for Bush, while former NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark stumped for Kerry. The two focused on national security at competing partisan rallies. Meanwhile, Bush and Kerry began wrapping up their campaigns on the last weekend of the campaign season.

Orlando, Fla. — Giuliani told a couple hundred Bush supporters in St. Paul that he didn't mean to leave the impression earlier this week that he blames U.S. troops for missing explosives from an Iraqi military facility. Giuliani told NBC's Today Show that the responsibility for any disappearance would be with the troops that were there, not with President Bush. Giuliani says the Kerry campaign has used his comments unfairly.

"Let me be absolutely clear. What I was saying on the Today Show is not that we should be blaming the troops; of course we shouldn't. President Bush doesn't, I don't, you don't, John Kerry is the one who is blaming the troops. That's what I said, that's what I mean, and that's what I believe," Guiliani said.

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Image Gen. Wesley Clark (ret.)

Giuliani said it's still unclear what happened to the explosives, so Kerry shouldn't use the matter as a campaign issue. Giuliani also said Kerry's comments that he wants to reduce the nation's terror threat to the nuisance level was "baffling." Giuliani says President Bush understands how to protect the nation's security.

"No matter how much we improve our security at home, even if we spend a lot more money and do a lot more work on it, as the president will be doing, we're never going to be secure completely or as we should be unless we go on offense and remain on offense against them overseas," he said.

Giuliani was joined by Congressman Mark Kennedy, Sen. Norm Coleman and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who all urged Bush supporters to work hard for the president's re-election in the final days of the campaign.

Coleman, who's co-chairing Bush's reelection campaign in Minnesota, told supporters to continue their get-out-the-vote efforts until the polls close.

"Give us that next 100 hours and we're going to have four more years of great leadership," he said.

As Bush supporters left the rally, they were greeted by a handful of Kerry supporters.

Arnold London carried a sign that read, "I'm feeling less safe than ever." London's medical practice is just down the hall from the rally, and he said he couldn't pass up the opportunity to show his opposition to Bush.

Meanwhile, former NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark addressed a crowd of veterans and other Kerry supporters at the University of Minnesota Law School. Clark hammered away at President Bush's handling of foreign policy and argued the president led the country to war on false premises and for political reasons.

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Image 'Four more days...'

"They knew they screwed up and let 9/11 happen when it could have been prevented. And they only way he was going to recover politically was to do something big and powerful and dramatic," he said.

Clark, who challenged Kerry for the Democratic nomination earlier this year, called Kerry "an admirable leader" who's dedicated his life to public service. And he urged his audience to work around the clock for the next four days to mobilize voters in support of Kerry. Clark asked everyone to identify two undecided or disaffected voters.

"We can't go out and identify the uncommitted voters. We don't know who they are. You do. They're people you go to school with. They're your next door neighbors. They're people you're going to church with, people you're in business with. They're members of your family," he said.

Clark asked the crowd to set aside emotional appeals or personal prejudices and to make an issues-based argument to fence-sitters. Jim Krieger of Edina says he's ready to accept the challenge. Krieger is a Vietnam veteran who says he had never been politically active until this year. But Krieger says the election has finally come down to the efforts of volunteers like himself.

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Image Bush in New Hampshire

"Take off the paraphernalia, take off all the marketing T-shirts, like I'm wearing now, and just go out there and in an unemotional, simple way state your simple case," he said.

Get-out-the-vote drives will pick up through the weekend on both sides. President Bush is expected in Minneapolis on Saturday and Kerry running mate John Edwards will make a last-minute stop in St. Paul Monday. A flurry of surrogates will continue to blanket the state in between.


(AP)Entering the final weekend of their long campaign, President Bush and Sen. John Kerry turned Friday to the closing arguments they hoped would seal victory - the president asserting he was best qualified to protect the nation and Kerry contending Bush didn't understand the problems facing the country.

The threat of terrorism was underlined by a video of Osama bin Laden aired by the Arab television station Al-Jazeera. In his first video appearance in more than a year, bin Laden told Americans, "Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al-Qaida. Your security is in your own hands."

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Image Kerry in Florida

After countless speeches and hundreds of millions of dollars in commercials, there was little to say that hadn't already been said. Both sides focused on mobilizing supporters amid expectations that intense voter registration drives would swell Tuesday's turnout to record levels. In Ohio, Republicans lost a court appeal to block tens of thousands of voter registrations.

After four days of tough attacks on Bush over missing explosives in Iraq, Kerry said the election offered a fundamental choice. "Do you want four more years of the same failed course?" he asked voters in pivotal Florida, the state where the race was decided four years ago. "Or do you want a fresh start for America that takes us in the right direction?"

The Democratic challenger implored Floridians to "walk out of here and vote," a reference to early voting allowed in 32 states. In Tennessee, for example, 1,127,739 voted during the 15-day early period that ended Thursday evening.

Bush returned to the central theme of his campaign, that he is a stronger leader than Kerry and would do a better job of protecting the country.

"I've learned firsthand how hard it is to send young men and women into battle, even when the cause is right," the president said in New Hampshire, the only northeastern state he carried four years ago - and where he is trailing now, according to a new poll.

"The issues vary. The challenges are different every day. The polls go up. The polls go down. But a president's convictions must be consistent and true," Bush said. He did not even mention Kerry in his first speech in Manchester, N.H., but brought up his opponent at the next stop, in Portsmouth.

A spate of new state polls reflected the tightness of the race. The race is essentially tied in Wisconsin, which narrowly voted Democratic four years ago.

In keeping with his theme of national security, Bush was accompanied in New Hampshire by relatives of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He singled out George Howard, a Port Authority officer who was off duty but responded when he heard the Twin Towers had been attacked.

Bush said Howard's mother, Arlene, gave him her son's police shield. "I will never forget the fallen," Bush said. "God bless you, Arlene." An event organizer mistakenly thought the president was ending his speech and fired off confetti cannons. The president continued his remarks.

Later in Ohio, Bush was campaigning with actor-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Organizing a big finish, Bush planned election-eve rallies in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Mexico and Texas, the White House said. Kerry's tentative plans for Monday call for stops in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. Looking beyond the election, the president was planning a Cabinet meeting on Thursday.

After scalding Kerry earlier this week as weak and wavering, Bush told a rally in Portsmouth, "I'm sure Senator Kerry means well but his policies are the wrong policies at this time of threat."

Kerry appealed for Jewish support in Florida, saying he has been a reliable friend of Israel. "I have never wavered on one vote, on one resolution, on one issue," he said.

There was a flurry of last-minute political mail. In Florida conservative activists sent about a million fliers accusing Kerry of being weak on terrorism. One mailing showed an image of school children wearing gas masks and warned that the consequences of a Kerry presidency "are too frightening ... to imagine."

While Kerry muted his remarks, running mate John Edwards said the missing explosives in Iraq and an FBI investigation into Halliburton contracts in Iraq prove that new leadership is needed in the White House.

"They've been incompetent in Iraq and here at home they always look out for their powerful friends at the top," Edwards said.

Vice President Dick Cheney suggested that in raising the missing explosives this week, Kerry was belittling U.S. troops. "Our troops were doing their job," Cheney told a rally in Dimondale, Mich., calling Kerry an "armchair general."

Former New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith, a conservative Republican who once ran for president as an independent, endorsed Kerry on the eve of Bush's last trip to the state before the election.

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