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Inside Politics

Bush speech drops 'turning the corner'

Democrats criticize wording

From Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

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America Votes 2004
George W. Bush
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush has apparently turned a corner in his use of what had been a popular refrain in recent campaign stump speeches.

Shortly after the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts, Bush hit the campaign trail to express his optimism about the country's future.

"Turning the corner" or a variation of that was his phrase of choice. At the time, campaign aides had highlighted the phrase as part of Bush's late summer message.

"When it comes to improving America's public schools, we are turning the corner, and we are not turning back," Bush said during a July 30 stop in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

"When it comes to spreading the peace, we're turning a corner, and we're not turning back," he said the next day in Canton, Ohio.

That refrain was repeated on other campaign stops. But this week, the "turning the corner" line has disappeared from Bush's speech, as Democrats seized on the words to charge that the president was out of touch.

"The last time we had a president who talked about turning the corner and ran on the slogan of turning the corner was Herbert Hoover," Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, said during a July 31 stop in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

Hoover was in the White House as the country sank into the Great Depression in the 1930s.

One Gallup poll from early July showed that 57 percent of respondents said they were not satisfied with how things were going in the country. A top Bush aide told CNN that their internal polling showed the same thing. Other polls have shown the economy remains a concern for many Americans.

A lackluster jobs report out Friday -- which showed far fewer jobs created in July than expected -- provided Democrats with more ammunition to hit Bush on the economy.

Bush aides told CNN not to expect that line on the campaign trail anymore, saying it's not working. Publicly, the Bush campaign maintains there is nothing unusual about the evolution of a stump speech.

Matthew Dowd, a senior strategist for the Bush campaign, told CNN that in the course of any campaign "you tighten up language, you make it clearer." But he maintained the president's core message of "moving America forward" has not changed.

One Bush aide told CNN that the "turning the corner" debate exposes disagreement inside the campaign over how the president should frame his message, given that times are still tough.

Democrats, however, saw things differently. The Democratic National Committee released a statement, highlighting Bush's tinkered message, along with a new Web ad.

With the words "Oh, really?" on the screen, the ad compares the "turning the corner" line to "mission accomplished." That was the banner prominently displayed behind Bush on May 1, 2003, when he declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq. The year that followed saw a rise in deaths and violence in Iraq.

"This is going to go down in the same lines as 'mission accomplished' -- something that seemed like a good idea at the time but in retrospect they realized it was a mistake," said DNC spokesman Jano Cabrera.

CNN's Sean Loughlin contributed to this report.

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