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CARROLL, Ohio (AP) - Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday raised the possibility of terrorists bombing U.S. cities with nuclear weapons and questioned whether Sen. John Kerry could combat such an "ultimate threat ... you've got to get your mind around."
"The biggest threat we face now as a nation is the possibility of terrorists ending up in the middle of one of our cities with deadlier weapons than have ever before been used against us - biological agents or a nuclear weapon or a chemical weapon of some kind to be able to threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans," Cheney said.
"That's the ultimate threat. For us to have a strategy that's capable of defeating that threat, you've got to get your mind around that concept," Cheney said.
Cheney, speaking to an invitation-only crowd as he began a bus tour through Republican strongholds in Ohio, said Kerry is trying to convince voters he would be the same type of "tough, aggressive" leader as President Bush in the fight against terrorism.
The Democrats called Cheney's comments ironic.
"He has the audacity to question whether a decorated combat veteran who has bled on the battlefield is tough and aggressive enough to keep America safe," said Mark Kitchens, Kerry campaign national security spokesman. "He wants to scare Americans about a possible nuclear 9/11 while the Bush administration has been on the sidelines while the nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran - the word's leading sponsor of terrorism - have increased."
Cheney raised the specter of nuclear attacks at the same time he said Kerry was "over the top" with remarks during the last presidential debate about daughter Mary Cheney.
"It's the first time I can recall where one presidential candidate tried to drag the family of another into - to make a political point, some kind of policy point in connection with the presidential debates," he said in an interview on Fox News Channel, to be broadcast Wednesday night.
Kerry mentioned the vice president's daughter, noting she is a lesbian, while answering a question about homosexuality.
The Kerry campaign has contended its Republican opponents are trying to frighten people with warnings of likely terrorist attacks in the United States and by suggesting America's enemies want Bush to be defeated.
In Des Moines, Iowa, on Sept. 7, Cheney told supporters: "It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and that we'll fall back into the pre-9/11 mind-set, if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts and that we're not really at war."
Cheney praised the recent elections in Afghanistan but said they don't mean the U.S. mission there is finished.
"Does that mean it's over now and we can walk away? No, it doesn't," he said. "This is three yards and a cloud of dust. There's no touchdown passes in this business. We'll stay as long as we need to help them train their own security forces, which we're doing actively so they can take over responsibility for their own security."
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