AS DEMOCRATIC supporters in seven states voted for their presidential candidate yesterday, the White House went into full campaign mode, angrily snapping back against Democratic charges that George Bush, the United States president, was AWOL during the Vietnam war.
Mr Bush stayed out of combat in Vietnam, serving as a pilot in the Air National Guard. But Democratic leaders have challenged Mr Bush’s record of attendance in the guard in 1972, seizing on an issue that could play to the strengths of the leading Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran. Besides his combat record, Mr Kerry also has almost two decades of foreign policy experience in the Senate, and Mr Bush’s allies concede this makes him a formidable challenger on issues such as national security and the war on terrorism.
On Sunday, Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic national committee chairman, told ABC’s This Week programme that he would welcome a debate over military service if Mr Kerry won the party’s nomination.
"I look forward to that debate - when John Kerry, a war hero with a chest full of medals, is standing next to George Bush, a man who was AWOL in the Alabama National Guard," Mr McAuliffe said. "George Bush never served in our military in our country. He didn’t show up when he should have showed up."
The accusation that Mr Bush was AWOL - or "absent without leave" - stems from charges that he missed required drills in 1972.
But Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said the president fulfilled his duties and was honourably discharged.
"These kinds of attacks have no place in politics and everyone should condemn them," Mr McClellan told reporters. "It represents the worst of election-year politics."