FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – President Bush and Sen. John Kerry stayed on the offensive in swing states Sunday as the presidential race entered its final full week. In a television interview, Bush said it is “up in the air” whether the nation can ever be fully safe from another terror attack and suggested terrorists may still be contemplating ways to disrupt the election.

For the fourth consecutive Sunday, Kerry spoke at a predominantly black church, this one in Fort Lauderdale in heavily Democratic Broward County, and promised worshippers their votes would be counted this time. The county saw some of the worst of Florida’s 2000 vote-counting abuses. “I want you to turn out,” the Democrat said.

Kerry pressed his attack on the president’s record in new television ads, while on the campaign trail he sought to strike a more inspirational tone, saying in a speech on faith that values he practices as a Roman Catholic “will guide me as president.”

The Democrat took on church bishops who have criticized his support for abortion rights and expanded embryonic stem cell research and who have said he should be denied Holy Communion for not advancing church teachings. “I love my church, I respect the bishops, but I respectfully disagree,” Kerry said.

With polls showing the race still tight, the campaigns were focusing their efforts on fewer than a dozen states that remain highly competitive, with both camps making last-minute scheduling decisions to reflect realities on the ground.

The Massachusetts senator was headed to New Hampshire after campaign stops in Florida. Bush won both states in 2000. The Republican incumbent was campaigning in New Mexico, which Democrat Al Gore narrowly won in 2000.

In a taped interview with Fox News Channel, Bush was asked whether the nation would always be vulnerable to another terror attack and whether Americans would always have to live with that.

“Yes, because we have to be right 100 percent of the time in disrupting any plot and they have to be right once,” Bush said. He said the nation is safer from terrorism, but “whether or not we can be ever fully safe is up – you know, up in the air.”

Bush said he was sure terrorists still “think about” trying to disrupt the Nov. 2 elections, citing the March 11 train bombings in Madrid that killed 191 people right before Spain’s national elections.

“I don’t want to alarm anybody because … there’s nothing specific at this point in time – a kind of general intent,” Bush said in the interview, to be broadcast Monday night.

Bush caused a flap at the G0P convention in New York in late August when he said of the war on terror: “I don’t think you can win it.” The comment, made in an interview with NBC, complicated GOP efforts to portray him as a resolute leader.

The president quickly backed away from the earlier remark, asserting that the war on terror could be won, even if not in a conventional sense, and that he “probably needed to be more articulate.”

Kerry spokesman David Wade said Bush “continues to send mixed messages” on the war on terror.

In the Fox News Channel interview taped Saturday in Florida, Bush also was asked whether a nuclear, chemical or biological attack in the United States is a real possibility. “Yes it is,” Bush replied. “That’s the biggest threat we face.” Fox released excerpts of the interview on Sunday.

In all, both campaigns are spending nearly $40 million on TV ads in the final week of the campaign.

Closing its own $150 million ad campaign, Kerry’s camp said it planned to run a series of previously released television commercials with the candidate offering messages both hopeful about the future and sharply critical of Bush.

“I believe our future belongs to freedom not to fear,” Kerry says in one. In another, he accuses Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney of “misleading Americans about what I said.”

Kerry’s campaign said the ads make up $10 million of the $12 million it will spend over the next week on advertising in 14 states. More than half of that is devoted to just three – Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, top priorities for both campaigns. Bush won Florida and Ohio in 2000, and lost Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, former President Clinton’s plans to campaign for Kerry in Philadelphia on Monday and Florida the next day – his first public appearances since heart bypass surgery in early September – drew attention from both camps, with Democrats claiming he could be a big help with swing voters.

But White House communications director Dan Bartlett, interviewed on “Fox News Sunday,” said that while he wished Clinton well, “the fact that John Kerry’s going to have to roll him off the surgery table and onto the campaign trail demonstrates a revealing aspect, that he’s underperforming in key parts of his own constituency.”

Meanwhile, Gore, on a tour of mostly black churches in Florida, told blacks embittered by his narrow loss in the 2000 presidential election that “it doesn’t have to be this way” and urged them to turn anger into energy at the polls. “Don’t turn it into angry acts or angry words,” the former vice president said in Jacksonville.

And a judge’s order requiring some provisional ballots in Michigan to be counted even if they are cast in the wrong precinct was put on hold Sunday, the second time in as many days that a federal appeals court dealt a setback to Democrats who wanted to ease voting restrictions. Such ballots are used when voters say they are properly registered but their names are not on voter rolls. On Saturday, the same three-judge panel rejected a similar ruling in Ohio.

Polls showed little movement, with the race essentially even nationally and in the major swing states. New polls showed an even race in Arkansas, Florida and Nevada, with Kerry up slightly in New Hampshire, New Jersey and Maine.

Kerry strategists, meanwhile, canceled plans to visit Colorado this week, suggesting his campaign was giving up on that state, even though Kerry was just there.



Tom Raum reported from Washington and Nedra Pickler from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with additional reporting from Jennifer Loven in Waco, Texas.



On the Net:

Bush campaign: http://www.georgewbush.com

Kerry campaign: http://www.johnkerry.com


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