Bush expected to resist grimacing, Kerry any aloofness in second debate
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A lackluster unemployment report, troubling terrorism developments and fresh questions about President Bushï¿½s rationale for invading Iraq frame the second face-to-face encounter Friday night between Bush and John Kerry.
Only the debateï¿½s moderator and the 15 to 20 people chosen to ask questions know what topics will be raised during the town-hall session at Washington University. Kerry has momentum from polls showing he gained from his performance in the first debate while Bush goes in on the defensive. The president watched tapes from the first debate as aides sought to avoid a repeat of the scowls that contributed to negative reaction to his appearance.
ï¿½I donï¿½t think the American people are going to choose a president on the basis of facial expressions,ï¿½ senior Bush adviser Karen Hughes told CBSï¿½s ï¿½The Early Showï¿½ on Friday. ï¿½But as the president joked the other day, hearing that litany of misrepresentations from Sen. Kerry did kind of make him want to make a face, and I think heï¿½ll be conscious of that tonight.ï¿½
Kerry, criticized as times for what some call a stiff and aloof manner, will try to build on favorable impressions from the debate in Miami. The Massachusetts senator holds a slight lead nationally over Bush in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Thursday, reversing Bushï¿½s advantage from mid-September.
Although voters cite Iraq as a major concern, the economy consistently ranks at the top. The unemployment reportï¿½the last to be released before Election Dayï¿½provides fresh fodder for the campaigns. Unemployment held steady at 5.4 percent but job creation was lower than expected.
Bush will cast the addition of 96,000 jobs as proof his tax cuts are bolstering the jobs market and the economy overall while Kerry will point out that the country has lost jobs overall under the Bush administration, a first since the Depression.
Hard sparring over Iraq on the eve of the debate offered a preview of the discussion to come.
A final report from the chief U.S. weapons hunter in Iraq concluded that Saddam Hussein had no stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons, had no programs to make either them or nuclear bombs, and had little abilityï¿½or immediate plansï¿½to revive those programs.
The findings contradicted Bushï¿½s main rationale for going to war, and Kerry charged the commander in chief with purposely exaggerating the evidence used to justify the war. He also ridiculed the administration for shifting now to another explanation. ï¿½You donï¿½t make up or find reasons to go to war after the fact,ï¿½ Kerry said Thursday in Colorado.
Bush not only insisted that going to war was right, but he turned the tables to say Kerry was the one not being candid.
Dredging up remarks by the Massachusetts senator from two years ago on the threat Saddam and his purported weapons posed, Bush said at a campaign rally in Wisconsin: ï¿½Heï¿½s claiming I misled America about weapons when he, himself, cited the very same intelligence about Saddam weapons programs as the reason he voted to go to war. ... Just whoï¿½s the one trying to mislead the American people?ï¿½
Kerryï¿½s campaign accused Bush of altering Kerryï¿½s statement to suit his own political purposes and omitting from those remarks Kerryï¿½s caution against rushing to war.
Terrorists struck again Thursday night in a series of coordinated bomb attacks that killed scores of tourists at an Egyptian resort.
Both men arrived in St. Louis on Thursday night, with no public appearances scheduled before the nationally televised debate. Earlier in the week, Bush unveiled a more pointed stump speech that tweaks Kerry as a tax-and-spend liberal who is too weak to be trusted with the nationï¿½s security. Kerry spent several days off the campaign trail, preparing in Colorado.
The town-hall format, with both candidates perched on stools but prohibited by lengthy rules from approaching one another, is more casual than the first debate. Some experts believe that could play to Bushï¿½s strengths as a campaigner, while noting that the presidentï¿½s frequent campaign appearances at question-and-answer events are always stocked with supporters who rarely ask pointed questions.
Kerry was headed to a rally in St. Louis after the debate; Bush was doing the same in nearby Ballwin, Mo.
Their third and final debate is Oct. 13 in Tempe, Ariz., and will focus on economic and domestic policy.