President Bush's "character" is a bigger issue in Nevada than national security or the state's rebounding economy after he broke his pledge to use sound science in deciding whether to bury nuclear waste here, Sen. Harry Reid said.
And after attacking Democrat John Kerry's record on the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain last week, Republican Sen. John Ensign is acknowledging Kerry has "been better than George Bush" on "this one issue."
Reid, D-Nev., raised Bush's character as an issue in the presidential race in this battleground state during an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press.
"The man doesn't appear to be a person of his word," said Reid, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate.
Bush and Kerry are locked in a "very close" race in Nevada - which Bush narrowly carried in 2000 after Democrat Bill Clinton had won it twice - partly because it's the only state to register a net increase in manufacturing jobs under Bush, Reid said.
"The economy is such a big issue in other states. But in Nevada, it's not as big of issue. The economy in Nevada has done well," he said during a wide-ranging interview at the AP bureau in Reno.
The biggest issue in Nevada is nuclear waste, Reid said.
"And the issue is more important than (just) nuclear waste because it deals with George Bush's character," the senator said.
Republicans "welcome a battle of character" between Bush and Kerry, Ensign's spokesman Jack Finn said Wednesday.
"If this presidential race comes down to a question of character, President Bush will win in a landslide over a man whose career is marked by the most extreme liberalism and blatant flip-flops on just about every major issue," Finn said.
Kerry has "flip-flopped on funding the troops in Iraq, the Patriot Act, the death penalty for terrorists" and the North American Free Trade Agreement, said Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Bush-Cheney campaign.
"John Kerry is not a candidate of conviction," she said.
Reid said Bush broke his word to Nevadans when he prematurely authorized the Yucca Mountain site while hundreds of studies were still pending in 2002 despite saying during his presidential campaign that he would use "sound science" to evaluate the project.
Kerry, D-Mass., voted against the project in 2000 and 2002 but Republicans accused him last week of being disingenuous about his voting record on the matter because he's also voted for Yucca Mountain.
Ensign issued a list of seven "pro-Yucca" votes that he said Kerry has taken since 1987, including one on a bill with the infamous "Screw Nevada" provision limiting studies for a potential dump site to Yucca Mountain. The provision was part of a $17.6 billion budget package.
"The people of Nevada have been led to believe that John Kerry is some sort of savior in our battle against the Yucca Mountain project," Ensign said last week. "Kerry's voting record shows just the opposite."
Ensign altered his criticism on Monday, saying Yucca Mountain is "one issue" in an election with many important issues, including the economy and the global war on terrorism.
"John Kerry is a left-wing Massachusetts liberal that does not reflect the values of Nevadans. On this one issue he's been better than George Bush, but that's on one issue," he told political commentator Jon Ralston on "Face to Face" carried on a Las Vegas cable channel.
Reid said Kerry's votes on Yucca Mountain were on omnibus spending bills he had to support because they included "tons of stuff" for Massachusetts.
"Every time we've needed him on nuclear waste, he's been there for us," Reid said.
Ensign said he has had many conversations with the president about Yucca Mountain.
"His advisers are telling him it is based on sound science. Obviously ... I personally disagree with that science. The National Academy of Sciences disagrees with the science," Ensign said on "Face to Face," which is carried on Las Vegas 1, jointly owned by KLAS-TV, The Las Vegas Sun and Cox Communications.
Finn said Wednesday that Ensign believes federal courts will determine if Yucca Mountain will be built "regardless of who is the president."
"John Kerry says `If I'm president, there will be no repository.' He can't make that statement. Nevadans should not believe him," Finn said.
"In terms of Yucca Mountain, this is a man (Kerry) who outright lied to the people of Nevada about his record. We were told he had a consistent record, a pure record, and that is an absolute falsehood," he said.