Bush and Kerry to meet for second debate

President George W Bush and Senator John Kerry meet on Friday in a debate rematch as a new poll shows a shift toward the Democratic challenger.

This time, Bush will be on the defensive going in, after a widely panned performance in last week’s debate, falling poll numbers, bad news out of Iraq and Friday’s release of the September jobs report.

With 25 days until the November 2 election, the 90-minute encounter at Washington University was to be town-hall style, with the candidates casually perched on stools and answering questions posed by undecided voters.

Hard sparring over Iraq on the eve of the debate offered a preview of the discussion to come.

A final report from the chief US weapons hunter in Iraq concluded that Saddam Hussein had no stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons, had no programmes to make either them or nuclear bombs, and had little ability—or immediate plans—to revive those programs.

The findings contradicted Bush’s 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.

“You don’t make up or find reasons to go to war after the fact,” Kerry said on 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: “He’s 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 who’s the one trying to mislead the American people?”

Kerry’s campaign accused Bush of altering Kerry’s statement to suit his own political purposes and omitting from those remarks Kerry’s caution against rushing to war.

Even though voters cite Iraq as a major concern, the economy consistently ranks at the top. The release on Friday morning of the last unemployment report before the election will provide fresh fodder for the campaigns.

Bush will cast the numbers as proof that his tax cuts are bolstering the jobs market, and thus the economy. Kerry is likely to maintain his focus on net jobs loss under Bush’s watch.

Kerry holds a slight lead nationally over Bush in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released on Thursday, reversing Bush’s advantage from mid-September. Among 944 likely voters, the Kerry-Edwards ticket led Bush-Cheney, 50% to 46%. The October 4-6 survey had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Both men arrived in St Louis on Thursday night, with no public appearances scheduled before the nationally televised debate. Tens of millions of viewers are expected to watch.

Bush spent time earlier in the week watching tapes from the first debate, as aides sought to avoid a repeat of the grimaces and scowls that contributed to his widely panned performance. He also unveiled a more pointed stump speech that tweaks Kerry as a tax-and-spend liberal who is too weak to be trusted with the nation’s security.

Kerry spent several days off the campaign trail, preparing in Colorado.

The debate format calls for moderator Charles Gibson of the ABC television network to ask any question submitted in advance from the audience of about 150 undecided voters chosen by the Gallup polling organisation. The campaigns will not know the topics.

Their third and final debate is on October 13 in Tempe, Arizona, and will focus on economic and domestic policy. - Sapa

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