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Monday, October 18, 2004

The New York Times > Washington > Campaign 2004 > The Democrats: Campaigning Furiously, With Social Security in Tow

The New York Times > Washington > Campaign 2004 > The Democrats: Campaigning Furiously, With Social Security in Tow: "THE DEMOCRATS
Campaigning Furiously, With Social Security in Tow

Published: October 18, 2004

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla., Oct. 17 - Accusing President Bush of plotting a 'January surprise' to cut Social Security benefits, Senator John Kerry told voters here and in Ohio on Sunday that Mr. Bush's plans for privatizing the entitlement program could cost them as much as 45 percent of their monthly checks.

'That's up to $500 a month less for food, for clothing, for the occasional gift for a grandchild,' Mr. Kerry warned elderly and middle-aged worshipers at a black church in Columbus, Ohio, as he brought to the fore a major issue in the 2000 election that he had rarely touched on.

His comments on Social Security came as Mr. Kerry headed to Florida for a get-out-the-vote swing timed to Monday's start of early voting there. He and his running mate, Senator John Edwards, are crisscrossing the state, courting African-American and elderly voters in core Democratic areas like Broward and Palm Beach Counties, new voters on college campuses in Tallahassee and Gainesville and swing voters in up-for-grabs places like Tampa, Orlando and even the heavily Republican Fort Myers.

Kerry aides said local Democratic elected officials would bus their constituents to the polls beginning on Monday as if every day were Election Day. 'We've got 14 Election Days,' said Tom Shea, the campaign's Florida director.

Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards will return to the state next weekend, aides said, and at least one more visit to Florida is likely.

Mr. Kerry will court the elderly in Tampa in a major speech on Monday about health care, in which aides said he would assail Mr. Bush for ignoring the looming shortage of flu vaccines until it was too late to avert.

At a sunny afternoon rally here before thousands who chanted 'No more Bush,' he touched that theme, noting that Mr. Bush had visited Florida on Saturday. 'He was talking to a bunch of seniors,' Mr. Kerry said, 'and he was talking to them about prayer and flu shots. And that's appropriate, because you don't have a prayer of getting a flu shot.'

Mr. Bush, who like Vice President Dick Cheney did not campaign Sunday, is to give a speech on terrorism on Monday. With that in mind, Mr. Kerry's advisers said he would mention the flu-shot crisis in his health care speech to try to undercut the president's security credentials.

'If you can't get flu shots sent out to the American people,' Mr. Kerry said in the rally here, 'how are you going to protect them against bioterrorism?'

In taking on Mr. Bush over Social Security, Mr. Kerry cited a report in Sunday's New York Times Magazine that quoted Mr. Bush, in a private meeting with top Republican donors last month, describing his second-term agenda.

'I'm going to come out strong after my swearing in,' Mr. Bush told the so-called Regents, The Times Magazine reported, 'with fundamental tax reform, tort reform, privatizing of Social Security.' Mr. Bush added that re-election would give him two years, until the next midterm elections, to act: 'We have to move quickly, because after that I'll be quacking like a duck.'

In public, Mr. Bush frequently promotes a plan for letting younger workers invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in private retirement accounts. But those workers' taxes pay for today's retirees' benefits, and Mr. Bush has not said whether he would borrow or cut benefits to make up for the diversion.

In a campaign commercial released Sunday, as well as speaking from the pulpit of Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Columbus, Mr. Kerry said the Bush plan for retirement accounts would cut benefits for Social Security recipients by 30 percent to 45 percent.

'The president's privatization plan for Social Security is another way of saying to our seniors that the promise of security is going to be broken,' he said, calling it a 'disaster for America's middle class.'

'Even the president's own economic advisers say that this'll blow a $2 trillion hole in Social Security,' he added. 'And guess who is going to pay for it: you will.'

The commercial, meanwhile, announces ominously that 'the truth is coming out,' and concludes: 'The real Bush agenda? Cutting Social Security.'

In a conference call with reporters late Sunday, Bob Shrum, a top Kerry consultant, noted sharply that when he raised the quotation with Ken Mehlman, the Bush campaign manager, on the NBC program 'Meet the Press' in the morning, Mr. Mehlman did not dispute its accuracy.


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