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Inside Politics

Bush campaign set to turn up the heat

From Dana Bash

Bush delivers remarks Friday at a high school in Washington, D.C.
Bush delivers remarks Friday at a high school in Washington, D.C.

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America Votes 2004: Presidential Race
George W. Bush
Democratic candidates

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush's re-election team is preparing a more aggressive campaign over the next few weeks, including the airing of paid ads in key media markets, Republican sources say.

The main Bush campaign theme in the president's speeches and the political ads will be "steady leadership for times of change," according to a senior Bush aide.

The president offered a preview of the theme a week ago during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," as he defended his decision to go to war in Iraq. Bush described himself as a "war president" who did what he thought was right to lead the nation.

In addition to highlighting what Bush officials believe are the president's positive traits, the campaign also will focus on the front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

On Friday, the Bush campaign launched its first targeted ad against Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, in an Internet advertisement that accused the front-runner of being beholden to "special interests."

Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt calls that one example of how they hope to paint Kerry as "hypocritical," as he slams special interests on the campaign trail.

Kerry accused Bush of engaging in "attack politics" for releasing the Internet ad.

"Instead of attacking America's problems," Kerry said, "George Bush and our opponents have once again turned to attack politics. Kerry claimed two more wins Saturday in caucuses in Nevada and the nation's capital, maintaining his lead in the number of delegates needed to win the Democratic party nomination. (Full story)

Bush political advisers have said for months that -- when a clear Democratic front-runner emerged -- they planned to begin drawing from Bush's $100 million war chest and aggressively target him.

Senior Bush adviser Matthew Dowd sent two memos last year to GOP supporters to prepare them for an inevitable dip in the president's opinion poll numbers when a Democratic front-runner emerged. And, support has fallen for Bush recently in key areas, such as credibility and trust.

During the past month, the White House has been defending itself on two main issues, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and renewed questions about the president's military record. Now, Bush aides say they are eager to return to playing political offense.

Responding to questions about whether Bush was present for all required duty during his time in the Air National Guard in the early 1970s, the White House on Friday released what Bush aides said were all documents relating to the president's service. Although gaps in the records still remain, the White House said the documents prove Bush fulfilled his duties. (Full story)

White House spokesman Scott McClellan also announced late Friday that the president would allow himself to be interviewed by the so-called September 11 commission as it tries to determine what the Bush administration knew about the threat from al Qaeda and its plans to attack New York and Washington in 2001. (Full story)

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