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Kerry to speak at college where Cheney delivered critical speech

School president invites Democrat

Vice President Dick Cheney's speech at Westminster College was criticized by the school president.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry will speak at the same college where Vice President Dick Cheney delivered a blistering speech about the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, a senior Kerry adviser told CNN.

Cheney's speech Monday at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri draw a rebuke from the school's president who said he was "surprised and disappointed" by what he described as "Kerry-bashing."

College President Fletcher M. Lamkin invited Kerry to speak and Kerry agreed.

Kerry, a four-term senator form Massachusetts, will speak on Friday at the 800-student college, where Cheney blasted him for his record on national defense.

Cheney attacked Kerry's votes in the Senate to cut weapons programs, his opposition to the 1991 Gulf War that drove Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait and recent comments that the war on terror should not be thought of as primarily a military operation. (Cheney, Dems trade shots)

In an e-mail to students and faculty, Lamkin said he was inviting Kerry to speak "in the interest of balance and fairness and integrity."

Asked if Kerry would criticize the Bush-Cheney team during his speech, the Kerry adviser said, "We don't have the same problem they do. ... We have the ability to talk about substantive issues."

In his e-mail, Lamkin said, "The content and tone of his [Cheney's] speech was not provided to us prior to the event -- we had only been told the speech would be about foreign policy, including issues in Iraq."

But the White House entered the fray on Tuesday. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Lamkin mischaracterized Cheney's remarks.

McClellan said the vice president was simply leading a "lively discussion" of the voters' "clear choices" between the candidates, and was criticizing Kerry only on "policy" differences.

"The campaign had talked to the president of the college prior to the speech to let him know that the vice president would be talking about these important issues," McClellan said.

Lamkin said Monday he was only told that "the speech would be about foreign policy, including issues in Iraq."

The college is best known as the location where Winston Churchill made his famous speech in 1946 about the rising dangers of Communism, during which he coined the phrase "Iron Curtain."

Since then several world leaders have traveled to the campus, including Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who in 1992 used the forum to declare the end of the Cold War.

Campaign trail

Kerry was spending the day in Ohio, where he held a rally with federal workers in Youngstown.

And President Bush focused on health care as he spoke with a group of a group of veterans and a Veterans Affairs hospital group in Baltimore, Maryland.

The White House, meanwhile, brushed off accusations by Democrats that the Bush re-election effort has turned into a smear campaign.

McClellan said Tuesday the president and his surrogates will continue to make distinctions between Bush and Kerry.

Republicans are raising questions over a Vietnam War protest Kerry participated in 33 years ago, saying he pretended to throw away his medals. Kerry said Monday he threw away his ribbons and the medals of two other veterans, and he rejected the questions as a "phony controversy."(Full story)

After the conclusion of an interview with ABC during which he was grilled on the topic, a clearly frustrated Kerry -- who apparently believed the camera had been turned off -- sputtered into a microphone, "God, they're doing the work of the Republican National Committee."

Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War, but some Democrats have questioned whether he reported for duty during a one-year period when he was stationed in Alabama.

And former Sen. Max Cleland, a Vietnam veteran who was severely wounded in the war, returned to that subject Tuesday. In a conference call with reporters, he compared Kerry and Bush.

"The Bush campaign is trying to define John Kerry now, but for my money, the defining moment was 35 years ago when both of these young men, graduating from Yale from favored families, had a defining moment in their lives," Cleland said. "John choose to volunteer and serve his country and risk his life doing so. George Bush did not."

McClellan missed the remark from Kerry as "the latest political attack."

"No one is questioning his [Kerry's] military service," he said. "Senator Kerry's service in the military is commendable."

Kerry's former campaign manager, Jim Jordan, said neither Bush nor Cheney have any right to judge Kerry's commitment to protecting America because neither served in Vietnam.

Republicans, including Cheney, also have tried to make political hay by saying Kerry voted against a variety of military weapons programs.

Monday, the Bush campaign unleashed 10 new ads, part of a $10 million blitz targeting Kerry's votes as a senator on national security issues.

In response, Jordan said that when Cheney served as secretary of defense under Bush's father, he proposed to kill more than 80 weapons programs, some of which have been used to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, Kelly Wallace, Justin Dial and Robert Yoon contributed to this report.

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