Very different visions: President Bush and Sen. John Kerry are on the opposite ends of many key issues in what could be a very close presidential election.
They're both jocks, wealthy prep school products and even members of the same secret society at Yale.
But the contrasts between George W. Bush and John F. Kerry can be as clear as the political divisions that have defined the country in recent years.
President Bush maintains all his tax cuts should be made permanent to spur the economy. Kerry contends rolling back tax cuts for people making at least $200,000 a year would cut the growing deficit, dramatically reduce the number of uninsured Americans and enhance homeland security.
Bush sees the war in Iraq as a central part of the war on terror. Kerry casts it as a damaging diversion from the fight on terror, but one America is now forced to win.
The plain-spoken president is known for taking positions and steadfastly sticking to them, but critics say he's dangerously stubborn and unwilling to change course when necessary. The often professorial Kerry is known for nuance and examining every side of an issue. But critics say he is a vacillator who lacks the core conviction needed to lead in a dangerous world.
It's been among the most negative presidential campaigns in history, and the outcome could depend on whether this is a referendum on Bush or on Kerry. Polls have consistently shown a majority of Americans see the country heading in the wrong direction, but the question is whether a majority decides Kerry can do better.
Four years ago, President Bush campaigned as a reform-minded governor who would be "a uniter, not a divider." After barely squeaking into the White House, Bush has proved to be anything but a uniter. However, the man who promised results has been effective pushing through an ambitious agenda.
He passed some $270-billion in tax cuts. He enacted the most sweeping reform of education in nearly 40 years, the No Child Left Behind Act aimed at increasing school accountability and performance. He added a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, something leaders in both parties have been promising to do for years.
Each of those accomplishments, though, has been fodder for criticism.
Kerry says the tax cuts mostly benefited the wealthiest Americans and says they helped swing a federal surplus into a deficit of more than $400-billion. Kerry says he would roll back the tax cuts for those earning at least $200,000 a year.
Early supporters of No Child Left Behind, including Kerry, say Bush reneged on his promise to adequately fund it.
Likewise, Kerry depicts the prescription drug bill as a sellout to insurance companies. Unlike Bush, Kerry says he would allow cheaper drugs to be imported from Canada and would allow the federal government to use its bulk purchasing clout to negotiate lower drug prices from manufacturers.
The Bush campaign says Kerry's promises - more funding for veterans benefits, schools, health care, homeland security - are unaffordable without raising taxes on more than just the wealthiest Americans.
Iraq, however, has proved to be the overriding issue of the campaign.
Many of the justifications for invading the country, especially fears that Saddam Hussein possessed or was making weapons of mass destruction, have proved to be unfounded. Bush says spreading Democracy to the Middle East would have profound consequences and that Hussein was a tyrant who could have helped terrorists.
"That was a risk, after September the 11th, this nation could not afford to take," the president said.
Kerry has been critical of how the war was prosecuted, saying Bush "rushed to war without a plan to win the peace" and that the president antagonized allies so that America is now bearing most of the casualties and cost.
Kerry, however, voted for the congressional resolution authorizing force in Iraq. He now insists he merely supported keeping the pressure on Iraq. He voted against spending another $87-billion in Iraq and Afghanistan, after backing an unsuccessful Democratic measure to tie that extra funding to repealing part of Bush's tax cuts.
Despite their sharp contrasts in assessing Iraq, there are few major differences in how they will approach Iraq going forward. Neither calls for pulling out troops quickly, but Kerry contends he would pull in more international support.
The differences between the Democrat and Republican on other issues are often predictable. Bush supports restricting abortions, while Kerry said he would only nominate Supreme Court justices who support abortion rights. Bush backs a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, while Kerry says the issue should be left up to states. Bush signed an executive order limiting federal medical research funding to existing lines of embryonic stem cells, while Kerry would rescind that restriction.
On Social Security, Bush says he wants to give younger workers the option of putting part of their payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts to potentially earn higher returns, though they would receive smaller Social Security benefits. Kerry opposes partial privatization of Social Security.
The economy is another big difference in perception. Bush says it has picked up steam, despite a net loss in jobs over the past four years. Bush says his tax cuts are helping turn the economy around and has hinted of more sweeping tax reform in his second term. Kerry says he would keep the tax cuts for middle class and low income residents. He would eliminate the cuts for wealthy Americans and spend the savings on tax credits for employee health care and other capital projects to jump start job growth. He would end a tax benefit for companies that move jobs overseas.
Minor party candidates include Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik and Reform Party candidate Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate who says Bush and Kerry differ little on critical issues like Iraq and promoting living wages for Americans.
GEORGE W. BUSH
Born: July 6, 1946
Birthplace: New Canaan, Conn.
Family: Wife, Laura. Twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna.
Government experience: Elected governor of Texas in 1994, re-elected 1998. Elected president in 2000.
Other work experience: Worked in the oil and gas industry until 1986; part of a group that purchased the Texas Rangers baseball franchise in 1989 and later built the Ballpark at Arlington.
Military experience: F-102 pilot for the Texas National Guard.
Education: Bachelor's degree from Yale University, 1968 and an MBA from Harvard Business School
Dick Cheney , 63, was born in Lincoln, Neb., and grew up in Casper, Wyo. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Wyoming. He entered public service in 1969, holding several positions in the Nixon administration. He also served in the White House under President Gerald Ford, eventually becoming chief of staff in 1975. After returning to Wyoming in 1977, he was elected the state's sole U.S. representative and served there until he became secretary of defense under former President Bush in 1989. He was elected vice president in 2000. Cheney and his wife, Lynne, have two children.
JOHN F. KERRY
Born: Dec. 11, 1943
Birthplace: Denver, Col.
Family: Divorced once, now married to Teresa Heinz Kerry. Two children, three stepchildren. Religion: Catholic.
Government experience: Worked as prosecutor from 1976 to 1979, and was elected Massachusetts lieutenant governor in 1982. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984 and re-elected in 1990, 1996 and 2002.
Military experience: Served in the U.S. Navy, 1966 to 1970, earning three Purple Hearts, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star.
Education: Bachelor's degree from Yale University and law degree from Boston College.
John Edwards , 51, was born in Seneca, S.C. and raised in Robbins, N.C.. He earned bachelor's and law degrees from North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He became one of the nation's leading trial lawyers, suing insurance companies, corporations and doctors. He entered politics in 1998, unseating an incumbent U.S. senator. Before the end of his first term he started running for president, but dropped out of the race and was picked as Kerry's running mate. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have three children and had a 16-year-old son who died in a 1996 car accident.