DAYTON, Ohio Billed as a speech to veterans, Vice President Dick Cheney's address Thursday at the Dayton Convention Center instead took the presidential fight straight to Democratic nominee John Kerry.
Cheney ridiculed Kerry's claim that he would operate a "more sensitive" war on terror, criticized the Massachusetts senator's votes on the war in Iraq, and questioned his attendance record for Senate hearings. Cheney also alluded to the Sept. 11 attacks in making the case for another four years for the Bush administration.
"The job of the commander-in-chief, as (Sen. Kerry) sees it, is to use America's military strength to respond to attacks," Cheney said in the 25-minute address. "But September 11 showed us, as surely as anything can, that we must act against gathering dangers."
During a speech last week to a national conference of minority journalists, Kerry said, "I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history."
In Dayton Thursday, Cheney said sensitivity is not an asset in a war against terrorists.
"America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes, but not a one of them was won by being sensitive," he said.
"A sensitive war will not destroy the evil men who killed 3,000 Americans and who seek chemical, nuclear and biological weapons to kill hundreds of thousands more. The men who beheaded Daniel Pearl and Paul Johnson will not be impressed by our sensitivity."
About 100 military veterans sat on risers behind Cheney. The audience in front included around 400 Republican party supporters from throughout southwest Ohio and there were around 75 empty seats at the rear of the crowd. Cheney did not address veteran's administration issues, but covered a broad array of Bush administration positions. He spoke out against abortion and drew a standing ovation when he defended the use of the phrase "under God," in the pledge of allegiance.
He criticized Kerry's votes in the Senate that helped give President Bush authorization to go to war in Iraq but opposed his $87 billion spending package. "It's simply wrong to vote to commit our troops to combat and then refuse to provide them with the resources they need," he said.
In speaking to military veterans Cheney was hitting up the same group that has been the target of much recent attention from Kerry, a Vietnam war veteran. Trotwood Mayor Donald McLaurin, a Republican and Air Force veteran, said Kerry's veteran status will get him only so far.
"You have to hear him out, you have to give him that respect, but that is not the final decision-making issue for most veterans," McLaurin said.
Burton Werner, wearing an American Legion Post 49 Wilmington cap, sat on stage behind Cheney and said the vice president's speech "shot a couple holes in his opponent's campaign."
The Kerry campaign responded with assertions that the Bush administration has "left America isolated."
A Kerry campaign adviser, former Gen. Merrill McPeak, said Kerry's service in Vietnam makes him better suited to lead the U.S. military.
"Do the president and vice president really want to have a debate about who is more suited to fight the war in Iraq and the war on terror?," McPeak said in a statement released by the Kerry/Edwards campaign. "Do they really want a debate about which candidate has the toughness to make America stronger?"
Outside the convention center more than 100 protesters lined the corners at the intersection of Fifth and Main streets, chanting and holding Kerry-Edwards signs high.
Several cars including a few RTA buses honked in approval. Other morning commuters expressed their distaste for the protesters, shouting "Four more years" and "Go George Bush" as they drove by.
Tom Hagel, a University of Dayton law professor and commander of the Dayton chapter of Disabled American Veterans, said he found it ironic that Cheney, who did not serve in the military, was speaking to veterans.
"I'm surprised we have an unapologetic five-deferment draft dodger talking to veterans," he said.
A lone Bush/Cheney supporter, John Bettinger of Kettering, let his feelings known to the pro-Kerry supporters outside. A lifelong Catholic and 1956 UD graduate, Bettinger said he is sometimes embarrassed to tell people he's Catholic because of John Kerry.
Kerry's pro-choice position on abortion divides many Catholics.
Several union workers from Millwrights Local 106v argued with Bettinger and a brief shoving match took place, although it wasn't clear who started it.
Another protester, Air Force veteran Mark Brown-Middleton, said he was upset at the way the Bush administration treats reservists and veterans.
"I've been watching hospitals close down and staff being dismissed," he said. "By definition they are not 'supporting the troops'."
Larry Haney, 48, of Dayton, said his son, an Army National Guardsman, returned from duty in Iraq after being wounded in Fallujah. Haney said he is angry because his own job was outsourced and his son isn't getting the care he needs.
"I'm not out here just talking about my job and my son," he said. "It's about everyone's son."
Later, as the crowd inside began emptying out of the convention center, Kathryn Cascella of Terrace Park said, "Kerry's the one who voted down the money. If my child goes to war, I want support."