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Democrats respond: 'There is a better way'

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Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine delivers the Democrats' response to President Bush's State of the Union address.

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George W. Bush
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Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine

(CNN) -- Democrats accused President Bush of failing Americans by his "poor choices and bad management" -- related to such issues as health care, jobs, the economy and the Iraq war -- in their response to the president's State of the Union address.

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who delivered the response from the governor's mansion in Richmond, said, "There is a better way." That phrase was the recurring theme of the Democratic state of the nation address. (Full transcript)

"The federal government should serve the American people. But that mission is frustrated by this administration's poor choices and bad judgment," he said.

"Families in the Gulf Coast see that as they wait to rebuild their lives. Americans who lose their jobs see that as they look to rebuild their careers and our soldiers in Iraq see that as they try to rebuild a nation."

Kaine questioned the administration's handling of the Iraq war, accusing it of using inaccurate intelligence before the war and failing to provide the necessary equipment for U.S. troops after the war began.

"Our commitment to winning the war on terrorism compels us to ask this question: Are the president's policies the best way to win this war?" he said.

"We must give our troops the tools they need to win the war on terror. We can do it without sacrificing the liberty we have sent our troops to defend."

Kaine criticized Bush's health care policy, which analysts have said will be an important domestic issue this year, arguing that soaring costs were adding to the rolls of the uninsured and seniors were finding the new Medicare drug plan too complex and expensive.

"Seniors were promised that the new Medicare drug plan would make it easier and cheaper to obtain their medication. Instead, many are falling victim to the program's poor planning," he said.

Kaine also sounded broader themes of reform, service and bipartisanship. "As Americans, we do great things when we work together. Some of our leaders in Washington seem to have forgotten that," he said.

"Our greatest need is for America to heal its partisan wounds and become one people."

The Bush administration, mired in scandals, has promoted an atmosphere of divisiveness in Washington, Kaine charged -- but he didn't name names.

"Democrats are leading that reform effort, working to restore honesty and openness to our government, working to replace a culture of partisanship and cronyism with an ethic of service and results," he said.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigoisa delivered a rebuttal in Spanish as well.

Democrats hope the response will help frame the issues to their advantage heading into midterm congressional elections in November.

Democrats believe they have a chance to recapture the House or Senate -- possibly both -- following a brutal year for the Republican Party that saw the woeful response to Hurricane Katrina, indictments of former House Speaker Tom Delay and a vice presidential aide, a Republican congressman confessing to bribery, and a lobbying scandal that threatens to engulf the GOP.

A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted January 26 through 29 found 47 percent of those polled preferred a Democrat-controlled Congress, compared with 36 percent, who preferred it to be controlled by Republicans following this year's elections.

A majority of respondents in the same poll, however, said the Democratic Party lacked a clear agenda and ideas on major issues.

Kaine, a Roman Catholic who served as a missionary in Honduras, recently took office after beating a Bush-backed candidate last November.

Kaine was the lieutenant governor when Mark Warner, frequently cited as a possible presidential contender in 2008, held the governorship.

He was chosen to deliver the response because he governs a traditionally Republican state and spoke eloquently of his faith and values -- areas where the Republican Party has dominated the debate in recent elections -- while running as a moderate during his gubernatorial campaign.

"We're very excited about Governor Kaine. He's a new, fresh voice," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. "His compelling personal story, his positive agenda for the future energized the people of Virginia and, I know, will energize the people of our country."

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