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Inside Politics

Bush ads take aim at Kerry

President Bush attacks Sen. John Kerry on taxes and defense in the latest ads.

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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
John F. Kerry
George W. Bush
Dennis Hastert

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush's re-election campaign Thursday defended its new campaign ads that sharply question the economic and national security positions of Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Asked about whether the president's campaign might be viewed as going negative at such an early stage, Bush strategist Matthew Dowd told reporters, "The Kerry campaign is working on their 16th negative ad."

"There are moments in time that the public is paying a lot of attention to. The public wants to know what the president wants to do in a second term, and they also want to know how that contrasts with the Democratic nominee," he said.

The new ads, which debuted Thursday in 16 to 18 states viewed as key November battlegrounds, consist of two television spots and one radio spot.

The first TV ad charges that Kerry would raise taxes by at least $900 billion to pay for new government spending, weaken the Patriot Act "used to arrest terrorists and protect America.

In a reference to the debate over the Iraq war, it accuses Kerry of wanting "to delay defending America until the United Nations approved."

Kerry has never called for tax increases of that size but has called for repealing parts of Bush's tax cuts benefiting higher-income taxpayers, a step analysts project would raise between $250 billion to $300 billion.

The Bush-Cheney campaign says the price tag of Kerry's campaign promises comes to much more than his planned tax cut changes.

It cites an analysis by a health care expert who in the past has been cited as authoritative by the Kerry campaign.

"If he disagrees, then let him tell us now, in detail, how he will pay for all he has promised and just how much he will raise taxes," said a Bush campaign official.

"This guy won the nomination based on his resume," the official said. "Now, we are going to have a debate about his ideas."

Kerry rallied in the Democratic campaign by focusing on what the early days of a Kerry administration would mean from a policy standpoint, and the new Bush ads try to turn that focus against him.

The second TV ad, in which Bush himself speaks, does not mention Kerry by name.

In it the president says, "We can go forward with confidence, resolve and hope. Or we can turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are not a threat."

The radio ad combines the themes of the two TV spots, campaign officials said.

The cost of the ad buys was not disclosed. "That's for other people to figure out," Dowd said.

The Bush attack ads come as Republicans were seeking an apology from Kerry for his remarks blasting political opponents as "crooked." (Full story)

House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Thursday he took "great umbrage" at the comment.

"I am one of those Republicans in Illinois," he said. "If he wants to ascribe to me being crooked and a liar, I think he'll have his [comeuppance] coming."

Hastert said Kerry's remarks were "the wrong way to step forward in this campaign."

Kerry said he was only talking about political "attack dogs" and stood by his comment.

"I have no intention whatsoever of apologizing for my remarks," Kerry said during an appearance Thursday with Democratic senators in Washington.

"I think the Republicans need to start talking about the real issues before the country." (Full story)

CNN's John King and Jennifer Yuille contributed to this report.

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