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Kerry draws Republican fire

WASHINGTON – Democratic U.S. Sen. John Kerry drew election-year fire from President Bush and other Republicans on Tuesday for saying college students could “get stuck in Iraq” if they do not study hard.

But Kerry, who unsuccessfully challenged Bush in the 2004 presidential election, refused to apologize and said his remark was a “botched joke” aimed at the president, not U.S. troops.

With the Iraq war a dominant issue in the November 7 elections, Kerry’s comment on Monday gave Republicans, struggling to maintain control of the U.S. Congress, a chance to fight back. Kerry’s office said later the Massachusetts Democrat had misread his prepared remarks that included the words “Just ask President Bush,” which he omitted.

Kerry, who was criticized for mishandling national security issues during his losing White House campaign, angrily accused Republicans who have never been in war of making unfounded attacks.

“The people who owe our troops an apology are George W. Bush and (Vice President) Dick Cheney who misled America into war,” said the Massachusetts Democrat.

While campaigning in California, Kerry told a college crowd on Monday: “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

Kerry’s office released his prepared remarks, which said, “Do you know where you end up if you don’t study, if you aren’t smart, if you’re intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.”

Bush quickly seized on the controversy, releasing a demand that Kerry apologize. He was to repeat the call at a campaign event.

“The men and women who serve in our all-volunteer Armed Forces are plenty smart and are serving because they are patriots — and Senator Kerry owes them an apology.”

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