John Kerry lacks moral fiber, Cheney contends

JOPLIN, Mo. – Democratic Sen. John Kerry lacks “deeply held convictions about right and wrong” Vice President Dick Cheney said Wednesday, arguing that voters would make a grave mistake if they replaced the current commander in chief.

Campaigning for the Bush-Cheney ticket, the vice president opened the session with some of his harshest criticism of Kerry, saying he wouldn’t trust the four-term lawmaker to make decisions about going to war.

“We don’t want to turn that responsibility over to somebody who doesn’t have deeply held convictions about right and wrong,” Cheney said. “And I must say, I look at the record of our opponents. There is a lot of hesitation and uncertainty.”

Separately, the Bush-Cheney campaign released a statement from the vice president in which he said Kerry “has had some difficulty explaining where he stands on the liberation of Iraq.”

Kerry voted in October 2002 to give President Bush the authority to wage war but has been critical of the president’s handling of the conflict, arguing that the incumbent failed to assemble strong allied support and rushed to war on faulty intelligence.

Questioned Monday about whether he stands by the vote despite the failure to find banned weapons, Kerry said he did, but added that Bush used the authority poorly, with little thought to the outcome.

“John Kerry is caught in a tangled web of all his shifts and changes. We need a commander in chief who is steady and steadfast,” Cheney said.

Responding to the criticism, Kerry spokesman Phil Singer said, “The sad fact is that Dick Cheney spends his time on the campaign trail launching vitriolic attacks because this White House has no record to run on.”

Cheney is on a three-state Midwest campaign swing to states where Kerry is even or holds a small edge. The race is dead even in Missouri, but Kerry and running mate Sen. John Edwards lead Bush-Cheney by a small margin in Ohio, and a new poll in Michigan shows the Democrats up.

Bush won Missouri in 2000 and has been back 20 times since. Kerry has visited six times this year.

Cheney used his appearance to defend the White House policy limiting federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, saying Bush would continue to defend “the culture of life” in a second term.

“I don’t think there should be any doubt in anybody’s mind where he’s headed when it comes to those kind of issues. I think he’s been rock solid on it,” Cheney said during a 45-minute question-and-answer session in which he was accompanied by his wife, Lynne.

The questions, all friendly, came from an invitation-only crowd of about 500 people chosen by local Republican leaders in this conservative swath in southwest Missouri.

The Cheneys noted this was the first time they conducted a question-and-answer session as a pair.

“It’s a test of our marriage,” Lynne Cheney joked.

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