October 31, 2004
Fear will weigh heavily on voters when they decide the presidential race Tuesday. Those fears were stoked white-hot on Friday with the emergence of a new videotape of Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the Sept. 1, 2001, terrorist attacks, leveling more threats against the United States.
Terrorism and national security concerns consistently have ranked as dominant issues in this campaign, according to state and national polls. The central question as voters weigh their final decision over the next three days will be which candidate can Americans trust to keep them safe?
For Nancy Palumbo of Mesa, homeland security was a critical factor in her decision to back Republican President Bush.
Palumbo is part of a new and closely watched voting block known as "security moms," women with children who worry about terrorism.
"I don’t believe you change chiefs halfway through a mission," Palumbo said as she waited to pick up her 8-yearold son, whom she did not want named, at Washington Elementary School in Mesa. "That’s why I’m voting for Bush. I think he needs to finish what he started."
Katy Grant, whose 10-yearold son Ethan also attends Washington Elementary, said she feels confident both candidates will do whatever they believe is necessary to protect the homeland. Once she crossed the security threshold, it was other issues that tipped the scales in favor of Democrat John Kerry, she said.
"He (Kerry) is well aware of the post-9/11 world and I don’t think he’s going to compromise our safety in any way, nor do I think the president has compromised it," said Grant, who also has a 14-yearold son. "I think the president has done a sufficient job. It’s just that there’s so many other issues out there."
Homeland security is the issue that has kept Bush on top of the public opinion polls in Arizona, according to Bruce Merrill, a Valley pollster and communications professor at Arizona State University.
Merrill said he has tracked Bush’s job approval ratings on a half-dozen key issues. The only one on which Bush consistently scores positive ratings is that Arizona voters believe he has done a good job of directing the war on terror, Merrill said.
Kerry’s strength has been on domestic issues like the economy, health care and jobs, Merrill said. But he continues to trail here because he has failed to beat Bush’s standing on security, Merrill said.
"It’s the No. 1 issue," Merrill said, adding that Bush has successfully tied the divisive war in Iraq to the overall war on terror in voters’ minds. "When you are in times of war, you tend to rally around the commander in chief whether or not you like him. There’s a lot of unrest out there about Bush. But as far as I’m convinced, the problem for Kerry has been that they didn’t see Kerry as a viable alternative."
Earl de Berge of the Phoenix polling firm Behavior Research Center agrees terrorism issues are driving the electorate.
"It has been the core defining issue that the president benefitted from," he said. "That has evolved as Kerry has emerged as a much stronger personality. Once Kerry has been able to move to the position where he had some standing on the issue in terms of being a strong potential military leader, then he was able to open the door to other issues."
SECURING THE HOMELAND
Both Bush and Kerry have tried to make the case that they will take the tough measures necessary to protect America from terrorist attacks.
When the rhetoric of the campaign is peeled away, the differences in what they propose are subtle and typically relate to whether the billions being spent are enough. So close are their positions that the Bush campaign sent out a point-by-point response to Kerry’s plan for homeland security listing in detail how all but one of his proposals is already being implemented. The only exception identified by the Bush campaign is that Kerry said he would tinker with certain provisions of the Patriot Act, which Kerry says he generally supports.
"We’ve got programs under way in just about every area that any expert can think of," said Richard Falkenrath, a homeland security adviser to the Bush campaign. "There are going to be quibbles, mostly at the margins. Kerry will say we should do more. There are definitely little areas, but on the big things nothing has been missed in the president’s strategy."
But Mark Kitchens of the Kerry campaign, said gaping holes in homeland security remain.
Cargo enters the country uninspected, the borders remain unsecured, nuclear and chemical plants are vulnerable and terrorist watch lists remain a hodgepodge of information that need to be centralized, he said.
What has been done since the 2001 attacks has been underfunded, understaffed and poorly implemented, Kitchens said.
Kerry is proposing to raise spending on homeland security by $60 billion over the next 10 years.
"They say they’re doing things, but when it actually comes to implementation and making sure this stuff works, it’s not happening," Kitchens said of the Bush administration.
After the Sept. 11 terror attacks, there was nearunanimous bipartisan support for radical reforms in homeland security. A cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security was created. The Patriot Act was passed to ensure law-enforcement and intelligence agencies could share information and more effectively target terror cells operating in the United States.
Kerry supported both initiatives and Bush signed them into law.
Earlier this month, Bush signed a $40.7 billion budget for the Department of Homeland Security. Spending on the agency will total more than $108 billion over the last three years with the new appropriation. Billions more have been allocated to other federal agencies, like the Justice Department and Health and Human Services, to prevent and respond to terror attacks.
But the underlying question in the campaign is whether the money being spent has made America safer, and whether more needs to be done.
In the last three years, the Department of Homeland Security has allocated about $120.2 million to state and local agencies in Arizona to help them prevent and respond to an attack. Only about 10 percent of that money has been spent, largely because of vendor backlogs and the paperwork requirements associated with processing the funds, according to a report to the Arizona Legislature from the state Office of Homeland Security.
The new homeland security budget signed by Bush includes about $4 billion to help state and local agencies. In the last three years, about $14 billion has been allocated to state and local agencies, according to Falkenrath of the Bush campaign
So much money has been pumped into federal grants to local agencies that at the end of the last fiscal year, hundreds of millions of dollars remained unspent because those departments could not process their applications fast enough, Falkenrath said.
"Virtually every urban area in America has increased its capacity to deal with a mass casualty incident because of these investments," he said. "In many cases they are running out of equipment to buy and training courses to go to. It’s not general purpose assistance to pay salaries and overtime. This money is for building new capabilities designed to deal with mass casualty terrorism incidents."
Kitchens of the Kerry campaign says that Bush has shortchanged local agencies, and wanted to cut their aid even more than he did. Last year the domestic preparedness budget was $4.4 billion, according to the campaign. Bush’s original budget would have cut that to $3.6 billion, according to the Kerry camp, a figure that is backed by the president’s original budget proposal.
Kerry is proposing to increase spending on local police, firefighters and emergency response workers by $13 billion over the next 10 years. He says he would add federal funds to help local police departments hire more officers, and would provide money to hire 100,000 new firefighters.
"Almost three years after 9/11 we really are not any safer than we were on 9/12," Kitchens said. "They are not doing it effectively. They are not funding it adequately. They can do much, much more."
Protecting the homeland
Bush: The Guard was used extensively to enhance security at nuclear plants in Arizona and Pennsylvania in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. More than 23,000 Guard members have been put into service since 2001 to help patrol the borders and secure bridges and railways. Bush has already created a standing National Guard Task Force devoted to homeland security.
Kerry: Make homeland security one of the primary missions of the National Guard. Assign Guard units to standing national task force on homeland security, where they will train to integrate with federal, state and local agencies during times of crisis.
Bush: Will push to extend or make permanent key provisions of the law scheduled to expire at the end of 2005. Opposes scaling back provisions, including the so-called "sneak and peek" section allowing secret searches with a judge’s order.
Kerry: Generally supports provisions of the Patriot Act and vows to toughen some provisions, such as restrictions on money laundering. Would rewrite sections of the law that allow the government to conduct clandestine searches on suspected terrorists.
Bush: More than 1,000 Border Patrol agents have been added since Bush took office. The president’s 2005 budget includes $64 million to enhance border monitoring technology and $28 million to triple the flight hours of unmanned aerial vehicles.
Kerry: Deploy additional personnel and technology to strengthen the borders against terrorists while ensuring effective flow of commerce. Work with Canada and Mexico to create a border plan to allow the flow of commercial traffic while improving security.
Terrorist watch list
Bush: Created national Terrorist Screening Center to consolidate watch lists and provide information and support for federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
Kerry: Create a single, integrated terrorist watch list that is accessible to law enforcement agencies at the federal, state and local levels.
Bush: Increased funding on homeland security research to $1.2 billion, including $229 million specifically to develop new detection and screening technology. Customs and Border Protection has deployed more than 145 machines to sea ports, and an additional 106 to land ports, that use gamma-ray technology to screen cargo. Customs inspectors also have been equipped with portable radiation detectors.
Kerry: Increase spending by $4.25 billion over 10 years on initiatives to inspect overseas cargo, and to subject companies that do not meet minimum security standards to more rigorous inspection.