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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kerry Slams Bush for 'No Regrets' Remark

MADISON, Wisconsin -- Democratic U.S. presidential challenger John Kerry ripped into President George W. Bush on Sunday for saying he had no regrets over his "Mission Accomplished" speech on Iraq and would do it again.

Kerry expressed outrage after Bush's statement in an interview with Fox News in which he was asked whether he would still have shown up in a flight suit for that May 1, 2003, speech aboard an aircraft carrier off the coast of California.

"Absolutely," Bush was quoted as saying in excerpts of the interview, which is to air this week.

Kerry, arriving in Wisconsin for debate preparations, called the statement "unbelievable."

"I will never be a president who just says, 'mission accomplished.' I will get the mission accomplished," said the Massachusetts senator. "That's the difference."

When Bush gave his dramatic speech amid much fanfare, fewer than 150 Americans had been killed in the Iraq war. Since then the U.S. death toll has risen to over 1,000. Bush did not use the phrase "mission accomplished," but that message was emblazoned on a prominent banner directly behind the president as he declared major combat operations over in Iraq.

Bush's interview is to air on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor" on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, just before Bush and Kerry face off in their first televised debate Thursday.

Iraq and the war on terror will be the central issues in the debate, which will focus on foreign affairs.

The 90-minute face-off in Coral Gables, Florida, will be the first of three presidential debates in the run-up to the Nov. 2 election, and many analysts think it is Kerry's best chance to try to overtake Bush, who leads slightly in the polls.

Bush spent the weekend at his Crawford, Texas, ranch to practice for the debate and relax by riding his mountain bicycle and going fishing. Apart from a day trip to Ohio on Monday, Bush will remain at the ranch until Wednesday, when he flies to Florida.

Meanwhile, Kerry and a group of senior aides headed for a resort 60 kilometers from Madison, Wisconsin -- an important battleground state.

"It's a remote area where we can concentrate and focus and still get out to talk to voters as much as possible," said Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter.

Bush held a mock debate on Saturday night with Republican Senator Judd Gregg playing the role of Kerry. Like Kerry, Gregg, who hails from New Hampshire, is a New Englander.

Kerry's aides gave only sparse details of the candidate's debate preparations, although Cutter said he had done at least one run-through with lawyer Greg Craig role-playing as Bush.

The Bush team was eager to manage expectations. White House communications director Dan Bartlett talked up Kerry's experience as a debater, citing his 20 years in the Senate and his participation on his prep school's debate team.

But he predicted Bush would "hold his own" on Thursday. "Will President Bush step on his own line and maybe not pronounce a word right?" Bartlett said. "I bet he will but I think after the 90 minutes there won't be any ambiguity in his positions."