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Inside Politics

Bush takes on critics

Campaign to launch first TV ads two days after Super Tuesday

President Bush speaks at the Republican Governors Association reception in Washington.
President Bush speaks at the Republican Governors Association reception in Washington.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With his poll numbers slipping and Democratic candidates hammering him, President Bush struck back Monday night, characterizing his potential opponents as negative, inconsistent and "uncertain in the face of danger" when it comes to world affairs.

Bush cast the upcoming November election as a choice between the "same old Washington mind-set" and a brighter future in a speech to the Republican Governors Association.

"So far, all we hear is a lot of old bitterness and partisan anger," Bush said. "Anger is not an agenda for the future of America. We are taking on big issues with strength and resolve and determination -- and we stand ready to lead this nation another four years."

Bush, who has been the focus of sustained Democratic criticism for months, described Democrats as favoring higher taxes and more bureaucracy -- common GOP themes.

"It's that same old Washington mind-set -- they'll give the orders and you'll pay the bills," Bush said.

Bush called his Democratic challengers "an interesting group with diverse opinions -- for tax cuts and against them; for NAFTA and against NAFTA; for the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act; in favor of liberating Iraq and opposed to it."

"And that's just one senator from Massachusetts," he said, a pointed reference to the Democratic front-runner, Sen. John Kerry.

The president drew his most sustained applause of the night when he directly confronted Democratic criticism that he ignored the views of other countries when he decided to invade Iraq.

"Our opponents say they approve of bold action in the world, but only if no other government disagrees," he said.

"I'm all for united action, and so are the 34 coalition partners we have in Iraq right now. Yet America must never outsource America's national security decisions to the leaders of other governments."

Speaking of his Democratic critics, Bush also said, "They now agree that the world is better off with Saddam [Hussein] out of power. They just didn't support removing Saddam from power."

"Maybe they were hoping he'd lose the next Iraqi election."

While various Republicans have leveled criticism at the Democratic presidential contenders, Monday's speech marked Bush's most direct and personal involvement in the campaign yet.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said Monday it was part of a "tactical shift" in the president's re-election campaign.

The campaign also will launch its first television ads March 4, two days after the 10 Democratic nominating contests of Super Tuesday.

The first ads will have what aides call a "positive tone," talking about the president's record, with the tag line: "steady leadership in times of change." The ads were shot in the White House and outside on the grounds the week of February 9.

The moves follow a slide in Bush's approval ratings in several surveys, including a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll last week that showed the president trailing the top two Democratic contenders, Kerry and John Edwards of North Carolina, in hypothetical head-to-head matchups.

Gillespie attributed the slide to the volume of attacks on Bush in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, saying it was to be expected.

"Democrats have run in the course of this campaign $17 million in attack ads against the president," he said. "The lion's share of the advertising run in the Democratic primary has been directed at the president, not at each other.

"With the outside groups -- third-party groups like MoveOn.org and their $12.2 million -- it's over $29 million spent so far attacking the president. So I think it is important that we get the president's message out."

The Bush campaign has plenty of resources available to respond: It raised nearly $13 million in January and has more than $104 million in the bank, according to its most recent financial report.

Republican strategists and GOP congressional aides have said they thought the White House was too much on the defensive on a host of issues and were waiting too long to shift into a more offensive campaign mode.

Earlier in the day, Bush's speech got the attention of Kerry and Edwards.

"We have George Bush on the run," Kerry told supporters in New York City, where he was campaigning. "He is going to go out and start their campaign tonight before we even have a nominee for the Democratic Party."

And Edwards released a statement, challenging Bush to talk about the future.

"It's not about John Kerry's past or the president's past," Edwards said in a statement. "This election is about the future and the new ideas we have that will change America so that it works for all of us."

CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.


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