- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The Bush re-election campaign moved into full swing yesterday with President Bush directly attacking Sen. John Kerry by name and committing to fight for the delegate-rich but heavily Democratic California.

The president assailed Mr. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic candidate, for what he characterized as flip-flops on every issue, including the war on terror, and labeled him as a longtime Washington insider.

“My opponent has spent two decades in Washington and he’s built up quite a record,” Mr. Bush told supporters at a fund-raiser here yesterday that raised $750,000 for his campaign. “In fact, Senator Kerry has been in Washington long enough to take both sides on just about every issue.”

Mr. Bush also mocked Mr. Kerry’s support — then opposition — to the war in Iraq.

“My opponent admits that Saddam Hussein was a threat. He just didn’t support my decision to remove Saddam from power,” Mr. Bush said, who previously has offered vague and mild rebuttals in the face of months of harsh political attacks. “Perhaps he was hoping Saddam would lose the next Iraqi election.”

Mr. Bush vowed to fight in California, where Republican Party leaders believe the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor last year — plus his successful stewardship of two ballot initiatives on Tuesday — have made it winnable.

“No party can take California for granted,” Mr. Bush said. “The vice president and I are going to be spending some quality time here in the coming year.”

Jerry Parsky, California chairman for Bush-Cheney ‘04, said Republicans once trailed Democrats in voter registration by as much as 13 percent, but that gap has narrowed to 8 percent.

“The president has shown he really cares about California. He’s gone to places other Republicans haven’t gone,” Mr. Parsky said, referring to Mr. Bush’s visit in 2002 to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Los Angeles riots.

In Boston, meanwhile, Mr. Kerry met with aides as they prepared an aggressive campaign in the South designed to build support where he faces his biggest challenge in unseating Mr. Bush.

Aides said yesterday that Mr. Kerry has no intention of slowing down and will visit Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Florida before those states select convention delegates next week.

“With the party as energized as it is right now, it’s important not to rest,” spokesman David Wade said.

California could be a cash cow for the Bush-Cheney campaign. A Republican official said that Mr. Bush’s two-day swing brought in $1.5 million, further padding his enormous money advantage over Mr. Kerry.

At yesterday’s fund-raiser, Mr. Bush recalled the day he visited workers at the collapsed World Trade Center watching the “hard hats as they searched in vain for survivors in the rubble.”

“There are quiet times in the life of a nation when little is expected of the leaders. This is not one of those times,” Mr. Bush said. “We have a war to win, and the world is counting on us to lead the cause of freedom and peace.”

Democrats have complained that Mr. Bush is exploiting the attacks of September 11 for political gain, but his campaign team says there is no shame in pointing out the president’s performance on the job.

“All of us, as Americans, shared in the experience of that tragic day, and the president’s steady leadership is vital to how we wage the war on terrorism,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

An Associated Press poll released yesterday showed that the president leads Mr. Kerry in a head-to-head matchup, suggesting that the Democrat did not get much of a bounce from his Super Tuesday sweep.

The poll put Mr. Bush’s backing at 46 percent to Mr. Kerry’s 45 percent. Liberal activist Ralph Nader, who angered Democrats by declaring an independent run for president, was at 6 percent.

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