DOWNINGTOWN, Pa. – President Bush and Sen. John Kerry clashed on science and health care Thursday in a day that also saw Kerry traipsing through a field with a 12-guage shotgun.

Reaching out to hunters and gun owners, Kerry appeared before waiting cameras cradling his weapon after a goose-hunting trip in Ohio. Hours later, Bush invited photographers to capture his visit with Cardinal Justin Rigali, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Philadelphia.

The dueling photo-ops reflected the strategy in both campaigns of targeting slivers of voters while also offering messages with much broader appeal.

Campaigning in Pennsylvania, the president put the focus on health care, accusing his opponent of favoring “bigger government and higher costs.” Kerry devoted the day’s policy speech to science and technology, accusing Bush of following an “extreme political agenda that slows rather than advances science.”

Accompanied by Dana Reeve, the widow of “Superman” actor Christopher Reeve, Kerry cast Bush as an enemy of technology.

“If George Bush had been president during other periods in American history, he would have sided with the candle lobby against electricity, the buggy-makers against cars and the typewriter companies against the computers,” Kerry said.

Kerry reserved his strongest language for the stem-cell issue, incorrectly characterizing the Bush administration’s policy as a “ban” on the research. Reeve’s widow and other advocates of stem-cell research say it might eventually provide cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and injuries such as the paralysis that afflicted the late actor.

In an executive order in 2001, Bush limited federal funding to work on existing lines of embryonic stem cells, and provided the first-ever money for the research. The president, who’s staunchly anti-abortion, has ethical concerns because human embryos must be destroyed to study stem cells.

“It is wrong to take hope away from people, and we must be a country of hope and belief,” Kerry said. “It is wrong to tell scientists that they can’t cross the frontiers of new knowledge, wrong morally and wrong economically.”

Bush didn’t mention stem-cell research as he outlined his plans to expand health-care coverage and hold down costs.

His health-care package would expand the use of tax-free savings accounts for health-care expenses, let small businesses band together to negotiate for cheaper health insurance, expand the availability of community health centers in poor neighborhoods and limit damage awards in medical-liability lawsuits.

He dismissed Kerry’s more ambitious – and more expensive – alternative as a big-government plan. While the president’s proposal would expand health coverage to nearly 7 million Americans who lack it, Kerry would bring 27 million Americans into the health-care system.

Low-income Americans would benefit from more generous income limits for Medicaid, the government health program for the poor. Kerry also would use tax breaks and government subsidies to help businesses provide coverage to employees through private insurance.

The president’s visit with Cardinal Rigali was part of a concerted effort by the Bush campaign to win over the nation’s 65 million Catholics. Although Kerry is Catholic, his support for abortion rights puts him at odds with the church’s position on the issue.

Polls indicate that Kerry also has some work to do with voters who are motivated by their opposition to gun control. He often stresses his interest in hunting to assure gun owners that he doesn’t want to take away their weapons. Kerry supported the ban on assault weapons, which expired recently.

His early morning hunting trip to a supporter’s produce farm outside Youngstown, Ohio, also gave him a chance to counter criticism that he’s a wealthy elitist.

Wearing a new camouflage outfit, Kerry cradled a breached over-under shotgun as he emerged from the woods with three hunting companions and a yellow Labrador retriever. His companions were carrying geese, but Kerry didn’t, though aides said each man in the party had killed one.

“I’m too lazy,” Kerry joked, when he was asked why he wasn’t carrying a goose carcass. One of his hands was bloody. “I’m still giddy over the Red Sox. It was hard to focus.”

Bush ridiculed his opponent at his last stop of the day, in Hershey, Pa., where he thrilled more than 10,000 cheering supporters by swooping in by helicopter to a rally in a football stadium. Slightly altering one of his favorite lines, Bush said Kerry couldn’t hide from his record.

“He can run, he can even run in camo, but he cannot hide,” Bush said.

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Vice President Dick Cheney, himself known to greatly enjoy the pleasures of bird hunting, mocked Kerry for attempting to appeal to gun owners by going hunting.

“I understand he bought a new camouflage jacket for the occasion,” Cheney said with a dismissive grin. “Which just makes me wonder how regularly he does go goose hunting.”

Noting Kerry’s “F” rating from the National Rifle Association, Cheney told the crowd in Sylvania, in northwestern Ohio, that “my personal opinion is his new camo jacket is an October disguise” to mask what Cheney called a voting record against gun rights.

The National Rifle Association wasn’t amused either, running a full-page ad in the Youngstown Vindicator that said, “If John Kerry thinks the Second Amendment is a photo op, he’s Daffy.” Gun-rights groups oppose Kerry because of his support for the assault-weapons ban and other gun-control measures.



(Hutcheson reported from Downingtown and Hershey, Pa. Matt Stearns in Sylvania, Ohio, contributed to this report.)



(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): KERRY, BUSH, CHENEY

AP-NY-10-21-04 1903EDT



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