Anticipating John Kerry as the eventual Democratic nominee,
President Bush’s campaign has begun the assault on its
probable rival.

The Kerry and Bush campaigns are becoming the dominant forces on
the political field, to the detriment of now-longshot Sen. John
Edwards of North Carolina. Sen. Kerry of Massachusetts is expected
to sweep the 10 state nominating contests being held during
tomorrow’s “Super Tuesday,” when 1,151 delegates
to the Democratic National Convention will be at stake. Bush will
launch his first wave of TV ads this Thursday.

“We’ve entered a phase of the race where we fully
expect a two-man race between Bush and Senator Kerry,” said
Bush campaign spokesman Kevin Madden.

Bush made thinly veiled attacks on Kerry in a speech to the
Republican Governors Association last week.

He called the Democratic hopefuls “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.”

Madden elaborated on the President’s remarks. “The
American public will find out that John Kerry finds two sides for
every issue,” he said. “He has a proclivity for
flip-flopping. John Kerry’s record never matches his
rhetoric.

“What you’re seeing coming out of the Democratic
primary process is candidate after candidate saying what
they’re against,” Madden added. “People want to
see what your ideas are, not merely what you oppose.”

Madden said Bush’s campaign blueprint centers on the
president’s positive agenda, contrasting this approach to
perceived negativity from Kerry’s campaign.

Part of that agenda includes Bush’s tax relief plan, which
he aims to make permanent.

“Fundamentally, taxpayers should have control over their
own money,” Madden said.

Bush has reiterated the stock accusation that Democrats stand
for big government and expect taxpayers to foot the bill.

Kerry spokesman Dag Vega responded to this litany of claims by
asserting the steadfastness of Kerry’s positions and
legislative record. He defended Kerry’s vote for the Senate
resolution authorizing Bush to use force in Iraq if former dictator
Saddam Hussein continued to breach U.N. resolutions.

“John Kerry supported the war only if Bush fulfilled all
diplomatic means at his disposal,” Vega said.

He added that the Bush campaign is trying to polarize the
American public with “wedge issues” like the war and
gay marriage in an attempt to distract it from economic losses
suffered during Bush’s presidency.

Responding to Madden’s claim that Kerry has attacked Bush
without offering policy alternatives, Vega said Kerry’s
proposals have been clearly defined.

While Kerry’s attacks are being increasingly directed
against Bush rather than his Democratic rival Edwards, Vega said
the race for the Democratic nomination has not ended.

“The nomination process is not over yet. We are
campaigning aggressively in all the Super Tuesday states,” he
said. “We don’t want to call it before the American
people decide.”

Vega also responded to Bush’s characterization of
Democrats as big spenders. “Bush’s investments in
government programs have almost matched spending levels under
Clinton.”

Despite a record-breaking deficit that Democrats attribute to
Bush’s fiscal irresponsibility, Madden expressed confidence
in the strength of Bush’s support among college students.

“A lot more college-age voters are identifying themselves
as Republicans,” he said, citing an October Harvard
University survey as evidence of growing conservatism on
campuses.

The poll showed Bush’s approval rating among college
students was 61 percent, eight points higher than among the general
public.

The Harvard poll also revealed students place greater stock in a
president’s leadership strength than in his policies.

“Our greatest advantage is the president’s
leadership qualities,” Madden said.

He added that Kerry’s 32 years in the policy-making arena
gives the Bush campaign ample fuel for criticism.

One debate is already taking shape — Bush will continue to
attack the probable Democratic nominee for proposing to eliminate
some or all of Bush’s tax cuts, a move he will cast as a tax
hike.

The gearing up of Bush’s re-election machine may be a
response to his weakened public image. Kerry and Edwards beat Bush
by margins of at least 10 points in head-to-head matchups in the
most recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll. The Feb. 18 poll was the
first in which Edwards beat Bush.

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