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Rice giving speeches in election swing states

Democrats say her office has been politicized

WASHINGTON -- Condoleezza Rice, the White House national security adviser, is giving a flurry of speeches in political battleground states in the closing days of the campaign, bringing allegations from Senator John F. Kerry's camp that she is injecting herself into the presidential race.

''George Bush will go to any length to cling to power, even if it means diverting his national security adviser from doing her job," Senator John Edwards, Kerry's running mate, said yesterday. ''It's time for a fresh start with a White House whose priority will be to focus on doing everything to make our country safer -- period."

Rice is scheduled to give speeches in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida over the next week. In recent days, she has appeared in Ohio, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington state. Until May of this year, Rice had not made any speeches in political battleground states.

The White House defended her appearances.

''She doesn't involve herself in the political campaign," said communications director Dan Bartlett. ''But we're a nation at war, we're a nation that has troops in harm's way, and the president has a foreign policy staff that helps explain the actions we are taking. And it's a totally appropriate role."

Added James Wilkinson, deputy national security adviser: ''Only those who think nothing worthwhile happens outside of Washington would attack the national security adviser for accepting invitations to discuss national security policy with nonpartisan audiences in America's heartland."

Records provided by the White House show Rice has given 68 speeches since the beginning of the administration four years ago and that most of them were in the Washington, D.C., area. Traditionally, the national security adviser does not become involved in politics in an overt way.

''For all its fearmongering on the war on terror, this White House has a greater commitment to its political security than to our national security," Edwards said in Canton, Ohio. ''The fact is that the violence in Iraq is spiraling out of control, Osama bin Laden remains at large, and North Korea and Iran have increased their nuclear capabilities. With all this going on, Condi Rice shouldn't take the time to go on a campaign trip for George Bush."

Meanwhile, when Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge leaves Washington on official business, nearly three-fifths of his public events are in the 17 states considered the most hotly contested.

Overall, Ridge and his senior executives, who have pledged that the department would not become entrenched in politics, did nearly half their public events in those 17 states, according to a review by the Associated Press.

The review looked at the department's travel outside Washington in the past seven months as 22 senior officials hit the road to hand out grants, take tours, and talk to private companies.

The department says that its officials go to states with the greatest homeland security needs, such as big cities or areas with ports or borders, and that politics does not play a role in travel decisions.

But the trips have rankled some Democrats.

''It seems that the Bush administration has once again taken its eye off of Osama bin Laden and placed it squarely on the Nov. 2 election," said Representative Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York, who is chairwoman of the House Democrats' homeland security task force.

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