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Inside Politics

Cheney rips into Kerry, Democrats

Vice president defends Iraq war, saying U.S. is safer now

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George W. Bush
Dick Cheney
John F. Kerry

CAMP PENDLETON, California (CNN) -- Republicans played offense and defense Tuesday, with Vice President Dick Cheney leading the way in rebutting stinging criticisms made at the Democratic convention while continuing to deride Sen. John Kerry, President Bush's main challenger this fall.

Cheney headed the GOP re-election effort for a second straight day, telling Marines at Camp Pendleton, California that the overthrow of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has brought freedom to Iraq and security to the United States.

"Sixteen months ago, Iraq was a gathering threat to the United States and the civilized world," Cheney said. "Now it is a rising democracy, an ally in the war on terror, and the American people are safer for it."

The vice president saved most of his vitriol for an evening fund-raiser in Bakersfield.

Cheney blasted Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, for voting for a resolution authorizing force in Iraq only to later vote against an $87 billion supplemental appropriation to fund U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Funding American troops in combat should never be a complicated choice," he said. "We need a president who backs our troops 100 percent, and that's exactly what we've got in George W. Bush."

Kerry has said he voted against the $87 billion appropriation to express his disapproval at what he called Bush's inadequate postwar policy in Iraq. He supported a Democratic alternative that would have offset the cost with reductions in tax cuts.

Cheney also accused the Democrats of failing to explain how they would create jobs and proposing to raise taxes, and said they would increase the power of trial lawyers and the Washington bureaucracy.

"What we're hearing from the other side is the failed thinking of the past," he said, "and we're not going back."

Responding to Dems

Monday night in Boston, Massachusetts, top Democrats accused the Bush administration of squandering global goodwill after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

"They chose that moment of unity to push the country too far to the right and to walk away from our allies, [in part by] attacking Iraq before the weapons inspectors had finished their work," former President Bill Clinton told convention delegates.

Former President Jimmy Carter offered a harsher critique, saying, "The United States has alienated its allies, dismayed its friends, and inadvertently gratified its enemies by proclaiming a confused and disturbing strategy of pre-emptive war."

But in his remarks at Camp Pendleton, Cheney held the line.

"To win this war [on terror], America is applying a doctrine that is clear to all: Every person, group or regime that harbors or supports terror is equally guilty of terrorist crimes and will be held to account," the vice president said.

'Rapid response' in Boston

Republicans also fought back in Boston, from their "rapid response" communications center just blocks from the convention site. Researchers e-mailed rebuttals to high-profile speeches moments after they ended.

For example, the GOP operation pounced on Bill Clinton's assertion that the White House wants to cut all federal funding for 88,000 uniformed police officers under the COPS program, which gives grants to aid community policing.

In response, the Republicans posted this on the Web site "President Bush has called for allocating more than $97 million to the COPS Program in FY 2005. While this is less money than was allocated expressly to COPS in FY 2004, that is because many elements of the Program -- such as matching grants for bullet-proof vests, and the entire hiring component of the Program -- have been folded for efficiency reasons into general Justice Assistance funds."

Yet in some ways, Vice President Al Gore's speech let down some in the war room.

"I was hoping he would show a little more anger," Republican National Committee communications director Tim Griffin said.

But the Republican war room wasn't focused only on the convention.

GOP staff sent out photos showing Kerry in a hooded protective suit taken Monday during a visit to Cape Canaveral, under the headline, "Earth to Kerry." The image revived memories of the infamous picture depicting 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis in a tank.

Kerry aides quickly responded, noting that NASA had required Kerry to wear the suit and sharing pictures of Bush wearing matching kimonos with Australian Prime Minister John Howard during a summit, picking his nose at a baseball game and leading a cheer at Yale.

CNN's Dana Bash and Catherine Berger contributed to this report.

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