Kerry Blasts Bush on Attack Ads

BOSTON Sen. John Kerry today accused President Bush of relying on front groups and attack ads to challenge his record of valor in Vietnam, asserting, “He wants them to do his dirty work.”

Defending his record, the Democratic presidential candidate said, “Thirty years ago, official Navy reports documented my service in Vietnam and awarded me the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.”

He continued: “Thirty years ago, this was the plain truth. It still is. And I still carry the shrapnel in my leg from a wound in Vietnam.”

Kerry received five medals for his service in Vietnam a generation ago, but his record has come under campaign challenge in TV commercials aired by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, funded by supporters of the president.

Bush and the White House have refused to condemn the ads, despite calls to do so from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former Vietnam prisoner of war, as well as from Democrats.

Senior Democrats, including some inside the presidential campaign, have urged Kerry to respond forcefully to the criticism, fearing that if left unanswered, it could hamper his quest for the White House.

In addition to Kerry’s speech before an audience of firefighters, his campaign released a new 30-second commercial that features a former Green Beret saying the young Navy lieutenant saved his life under fire.

Recalling when his boat came under attack more than 30 years ago, Jim Rassmann says, “It blew me off the boat. All those Viet Cong were shooting at me. I expected I’d be shot. When he pulled me out of the river, he risked his life to save mine.”

Aides said the commercial would air in Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin, three battleground states. The decision to advertise even in a limited fashion marked a change in course for the campaign, which had hoped to remain off the air for August to conserve cash for the fall campaign.

Speaking of the organization airing the ads that challenge his war record, Kerry said, “Of course, this group isn’t interested in the truth and they’re not telling the truth. … But here’s what you really need to know about them. They’re funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Republican contributor out of Texas. They’re a front for the Bush campaign. And the fact that the president won’t denounce what they’re up to tells you everything you need to know. He wants them to do his dirty work.”

Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt said, “That charge leveled by Senator Kerry is absolutely and completely false.”

“The Bush campaign has never and will never question John Kerry’s service in Vietnam. The president has referred to John Kerry’s service as noble service,” the Bush representative said.

Kerry said, “Of course, the president keeps telling people he would never question my service to our country. Instead, he watches as a Republican-funded attack group does just that. Well, if he wants to have a debate about our service in Vietnam, here is my answer: ‘Bring it on.'”

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