WASHINGTON – President Bush (search) is plunging into the political fray with a new stump speech that previews themes of his re-election campaign.
"There will be a very clear choice and it will be a choice between keeping tax relief that is helping move the economy forward versus higher taxes on the American people that will move us backward," Bush-Cheney '04 campaign manager Ken Mehlman (search) said Sunday night.
"In a dangerous world, it's a choice between a policy of strength and confidence versus a policy of uncertainty."
Bush, after meeting Monday morning with members of the National Governors Association (search) at the White House, will make an evening speech to Republican governors at a reception in Washington — an address that Mehlman says marks a "new period of engagement" for the president and a "tactical shift" for Bush-Cheney 2004.
In the speech, the president talks about how he wants to keep enemies on the run and extend the frontiers of democracy, a Bush campaign spokesman said. He bolsters his own record, saying that his administration has taken on big issues and is ready to lead the nation for another four years.
The president has been saying on the fund-raising circuit he has been just "loosening up" for the campaign season. But the speech at the reception makes it clear that he is intensifying his re-election effort.
Bush-Cheney 2004 will begin running television ads March 4, Mehlman said. It also will announce in the next few weeks new coalitions to help organize support for the president among veterans, farmers, ranchers and others.
In addition, the campaign will be aggressively delivering its message through member of Congress, Republican governors and other supporters, Mehlman said. The president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, for instance, will be in Atlanta on Thursday at a campaign fund-raiser for younger supporters.
The campaign's decision to step up the activity — and its criticism against Democrats — comes as Bush's poll numbers are dipping. Polls last week showed that Sens. John Edwards and John Kerry, who are battling to become the Democratic presidential nominee, lead Bush in head-to-head matchups.
While Bush has urged Congress to make his tax cuts permanent, both Kerry and Edwards have favored repealing tax cuts for richest Americans.
On the war, Edwards supported the decision to go to war in Iraq, but opposed the $87 billion in taxpayer money needed to continue military operations and aid in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kerry supported going to war, but now says he did so based on faulty U.S. intelligence. He opposed the $87 billion package.