Republicans are claiming that if Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry had had his way 20 years ago, the Apache attack helicopter never would have taken off from its production line in Mesa.
The criticism is part of an all-out attack on Kerry’s military voting record being waged by the GOP. President Bush’s re-election campaign is seeking to neutralize Kerry’s image as a heroic naval officer in the Vietnam War.
But the Kerry campaign counters that if Vice President Dick Cheney had had his way 14 years ago, construction at Mesa’s Boeing plant would have ground to a halt and 4,100 jobs would have been lost.
Today, many national politicians embrace the Apache as an effective tool for the Army. But the Bush campaign has called up decade-old voting records to show Kerry opposed the Apache.
"This is stuff that is the bread and butter of our defense structure," said U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz. "I appreciate his service. But that is not the question now. The question is not looking back at the past, but what clues does his time in office give us about the type of commander in chief he would be."
The GOP attacks reached a crescendo Wednesday as Cheney ticked off a list of weapon systems he said Kerry wanted to block.
But Cheney backed similar positions when he was secretary of defense 14 years ago, said Laura Capps, a spokeswoman for the Kerry campaign.
"The defense cuts that he was criticizing Senator Kerry for were ones that George Bush ‘Sr.’ recommended in the early ’90s," Capps said. "(Kerry) has supported 16 of 19 defense authorization bills since he’s been in the Senate, a total of nearly $4 trillion in defense funding."
Even U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a wellknown supporter of the Apache, voted in 1989 for a defense budget that called for stopping production two years later.
McCain said last week that other Bush supporters were taking the wrong path by trying to taint Kerry with past military votes.
‘‘No, I do not believe that he is, quote, weak on defense," McCain said on NBC’s "Today" show. "He’s responsible for his voting record, as we are all responsible for our records, and he’ll have to explain it. But no, I do not believe that he is necessarily weak on defense.’’
The Apache AH-64 helicopter was one of several hotly debated and expensive programs launched during the Reagan military buildup of the 1980s.
In his first Senate campaign in 1984, Kerry wanted to save $1.4 billion by canceling the Apache, according to a copy of a position paper on Free Republic, a conservative and libertarian dialogue Web site.
Kerry’s campaign claims that as senator he has been a supporter of the original Apache and its successor, the Longbow.
Capps pointed to a Kerry vote in 1989 on a military budget bill that added more funding for helicopter purchases.
Apache production was to stop two years later under that bill.
After the Cold War, then-Secretary of Defense Cheney was in charge of reaping a "peace dividend" that was intended to shift billions of dollars to other programs.
In testimony before Congress provided by Kerry’s campaign, Cheney said at that time he was resisting pressure from military officers and some lawmakers to buy more Apaches and other aircraft.
He told the Senate Appropriations Committee in June 1990 that he recommended cancellation of the program.
Congress saved the Apache in new budgets adopted in 1990 and 1991. Kerry voted against both budgets in protest against the Gulf War.