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Kerry focuses on Democratic unity

Bush touts agenda during New York visit

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Stay with CNN-USA for our political team's updates and analysis on the battle of the campaign ads and other aspects of the race for the White House.
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America Votes 2004
John F. Kerry
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry, the all-but-crowned Democratic presidential nominee, shored up support among congressional Democrats as the war of words heated up with the campaign of President Bush.

The GOP campaign prepared a new round of campaign advertising that suggests Kerry would raise taxes by up to $900 billion.

And Kerry fended off questions about some tough words he had for his opponents.

Kerry said he was referring to "attack dogs," not Republicans in general, in his comments he made Wednesday in Chicago, Illinois.

In an appearance with Democratic senators Thursday, he spurned a call for an apology from Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot.

"I have no intention whatsoever of apologizing for my remarks," the four-term senator said. "I think the Republicans need to start talking about the real issues before the country."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, said he took "great umbrage" at the comment, and Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt said the words were "over the line."

"Calling people involved in a civil debate about the big issues liars -- that's probably out of bounds, and I'm not sure it has a place in this," Holt said.

But Kerry told CNN, "I didn't say it about the Republicans. I said it about the attack dogs."

Kerry reached a milestone of sorts Thursday when a CNN survey found he had racked up enough delegates to clinch the party's nomination at its July convention.

He was greeted warmly by his party colleagues on Capitol Hill.

"I will say without equivocation, there is unity," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. "We're with him all the way."

Later, he met with Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, a former rival for the nomination.

The two men greeted each other at a hotel about two blocks from the White House.

Asked if the two men represented the Democratic ticket, Edwards smiled.

"We are not taking questions today," Edwards said.

Kerry quipped, "See that, he's answering for me." With that, the two walked inside to meet with donors.

Bush in New York

Bush traveled to New York to appear at the groundbreaking for a memorial to the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and to talk about the economy with workers at a company on Long Island.

In his appearance at an auto parts plant in Bay Shore, he blamed news coverage of the war in Iraq in part for the lagging job market that has contributed to his recent slide in the polls, eight months before the November election.

"Marching to war is a negative thought," he said. "And if you are in the business world and you're trying to hire people or you're looking for work, it's not a conducive time to do so."

Now, Bush said, "We are marching to peace. We've overcome a lot, and our economy is growing."

Earlier, he touted his signature on a ban of controversial late-term abortions, his support for abstinence education and his opposition to same-sex marriages in a satellite address from the White House to the National Association Evangelicals.

"Ages of experience have taught humanity that the commitment of a husband and wife to love and serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society and government," Bush said.

He won applause from the delegates in Colorado Springs, Colorado, when he vowed to "defend the sanctity of marriage against activist courts and local officials who want to redefine marriage."

The Bush campaign unveiled ads Thursday that paint Kerry as "wrong on taxes, wrong on defense."

They suggest he would raise taxes by $900 billion to pay for his pledge to expand health care coverage and warn of the "dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are not a threat." (Full story)

Kerry has touted his willingness to hit back at Republican attacks, and he said the commercials have nothing to do with issues such health care, the economy and "making America safer in this world."

Kerry has called for repealing the portions of the Bush tax cuts that go to the wealthiest Americans, a step that analysts project would raise between $250 billion and $300 billion.

The Bush campaign says the price tag of his promises adds up to much more than such a tax change would cover.

"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 raises taxes," a Bush campaign official told CNN.

The official said the new ads, like the first round of positive Bush-Cheney ads, would be broadcast in 16 to 18 states viewed as key November battlegrounds.

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

CNN's Ted Barrett, Sasha Johnson, John King and Robert Yoon contributed to this report.

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