Bush touts economy as GOP targets Kerry
Sources: Shift in Bush-Cheney campaign strategy
President Bush speaks during a conversation on the economy at Fidelity Investment offices in Merrimack, New Hampshire.
CNN's Jim Clancy reports on how the Democratic presidential candidates approach the issue of keeping America safe.
Sen. Jack Reed says the U.S. used questionable intelligence to 'justify preconceived notions' about Iraq's weapons stockpile.
MERRIMACK, New Hampshire (CNN) -- President Bush swept into New Hampshire Thursday to tout his agenda of tax cuts, delivering an upbeat message following weeks of criticism from Democratic presidential hopefuls who have assailed his stewardship of the economy.
During a round-table discussion at which Fidelity Investments Consulting executives and employees praised a series of tax cuts and credits, Bush called on Congress to make them permanent.
There was nothing new in what Bush said, but the timing of his comments was noteworthy -- two days after Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts claimed a commanding victory in the state's Democratic presidential primary.
Bush made no direct mention of the Democrats, but he seemed eager to share his assessment of the economy.
"You could tell I'm upbeat and I've got reason to be," Bush said, sitting on the edge of a stool with a microphone in hand.
Economic numbers on housing and business investment were encouraging, he said. "The American people tell me they're feeling pretty good."
The president urged lawmakers to make permanent some tax cuts that are due to expire next year, including a child tax credit.
Bush also defended his actions in Iraq, saying the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein made the world safer. He hinted that he looked forward to talking about his decision on the campaign trail.
"I'm absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do, and I look forward to explaining it clearly to the American people," Bush said.
Although Bush did not address the election head-on, and his aides insisted his stop in New Hampshire was not part of the campaign, his surrogates were more direct.
In Washington, Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee, questioned in a speech Kerry's ability to lead the nation in the post-September 11 era.
While calling Kerry's service in the military "honorable" -- Kerry is a decorated Vietnam War veteran -- Gillespie faulted Kerry's voting record in the Senate, where he is serving his fourth term.
"His long record in the Senate is one of advocating policies that would weaken our national security," Gillespie said.
The criticism of Kerry is expected to continue Friday with a speech by Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign.
Sources familiar with the speech said Mehlman would assert that Kerry voted against virtually every weapons system now critical to U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
GOP sources said the Gillespie speech and the upcoming Mehlman speech reflect a significant shift in the Bush-Cheney campaign strategy, one that is becoming more aggressive in rebutting Democratic attacks.
And Republicans are taking a closer look at Kerry, who is now the Democratic front-runner following strong victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.
"He isn't the nominee yet, but there is a realization he could well be if he keeps on this track," said a leading GOP official involved in the campaign strategy.
CNN's John King contributed to this report.