FORT DODGE, Iowa – Vice President Dick Cheney charged Sunday that Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry took a poll after Osama bin Laden’s videotape was broadcast in order to figure out how he should respond.

The Kerry campaign hotly denied it. In fact, Kerry responded to the videotape publicly on Friday less than two hours after the bin Laden tape aired, and one day before the poll in question was taken.

But the vice president’s attack underscored how hard-fought the presidential campaign is in its final hours, as both he and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina – his Democratic counterpart – campaigned feverishly through a series of battleground states across the country.

“The thing I find most amazing about it is John Kerry’s first response was to go conduct a poll,” Cheney told volunteers at a GOP phone bank here. “It’s as though he didn’t know what he believed until he took a poll. George Bush doesn’t need a poll to know what he believes, especially about Osama bin Laden … I feel strongly about it. Ever since I heard about the poll, I’ve been agitated about it.”

Kerry campaign spokesman Bill Burton rejected Cheney’s allegation.

“We didn’t poll on the Osama tape. The poll he’s talking about is Stan Greenberg’s Democracy Corps poll. I would say Dick Cheney should get his facts straight. John Kerry knows what he believes, and that’s Osama bin Laden should be dead or captured.”

Cheney aides cited as the source of his charge a transcript of a Saturday conference call by pollster Stan Greenberg, who advises the Kerry campaign, and several senior Kerry aides.

In the transcript, which the Cheney campaign gave reporters, Greenberg said he added a question Saturday to his standard poll to gauge how some 250 voters reacted to the bin Laden tape. Of that small sample, he said, 46 percent said the tape made them think that President Bush took his eye off the ball, while 36 percent said it underscored the importance of Bush’s approach to terrorism.

Kerry has been charging for months that Bush essentially took his eye off the ball – al-Qaida and terrorism – when he invaded Iraq, which the Democrat contends was a distraction from the more-urgent war on terrorism. The poll question echoed Kerry’s longtime characterization.

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