WASHINGTON – Politicos say it's about time President Bush entered the campaign ring swinging.
"Now that the president is stepping up to the plate and taking swings, he's not only going to get on base, he's going to score some runs and come November, we're going to celebrate with a president who deserves to be president," Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, told Fox News on Tuesday.
On Monday night, Bush laid out a game plan for his re-election campaign, saying that America must keep moving forward on the economy and the war on terrorism.
"Voters are going to have a very clear choice" to make in November, Bush said. "It's a choice between an America that leads the world with strength and confidence — or an America that is uncertain in the face of danger."
Bush said Democrats were pessimistic and full of "old bitterness and partisan anger."
"Anger is not an agenda for the future of America. We are taking on the big issues with strength, and resolve, and determination — and we stand ready to lead this nation another four years," Bush said at a Republican Governors Association (search) fund-raising dinner.
Political observers say Monday's speech, combined with Bush's Tuesday announcement that he would support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, is a one-two punch for the president, and a sign he's ready to set forth defining issues of his presidency.
"Today, he struck at the heart of a very domestic issue and decided to come out in favor of a constitutional ban on gay marriage," said GOP strategist Rick Davis.
"Presidential campaigns are very personal campaigns and candidates are always involved in when they start, what they say, what they don't say and this president is no different," Davis continued, saying Bush has had a hand in his campaign strategy and has been putting on some "finishing touches."
"I think you'll probably see much more of that in the future," he said.
But New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, said Bush is already headed in the wrong direction. "I believe it's very bad public policy … to tamper with the Constitution on an issue like this, which should be left up to the states … I think it's unfortunate. I agree with him on the substance but not the procedure to make it an issue in a presidential campaign … this issue is going to tear the country apart," he said.
Enough Is Enough
Up until Monday, Bush had largely ignored the pummeling he's taken from his Democratic rivals.
Bush on Monday took aim at presumed Democratic nominee, John Kerry (search), saying "one senator from Massachusetts" has waffled on topics like tax cuts, NAFTA (search), the Patriot Act (search) and the war in Iraq.
"I think that this White House and this president clearly understands that he is president of all of our country and he wants to continue doing the job as president and try to avoid the campaign, try to avoid the politics as long as he can," Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, told Fox News on Tuesday.
Bush's silence on the slaps may be evident in recent polls, which show poll numbers slipping for the current White House resident.
"Democrats are making their best case and we're about to start responding," Owens said.
Huckabee said that given Kerry's supposed flip-flops, voters are "going to realize that this is not the kind of leadership we need with the world in crisis."
"The president's been sitting there biting his lip for four to five months now," added Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. "Their attacks have been directed solely at him and he's had to sit there and take it ... there comes a point in time where they say enough is enough."
Kerry, whose campaign disputed Bush's claims of flip-flops, said Bush's plunge into campaign mode signaled the president is nervous.
"I don't think losing 3 million jobs, having deficits as far as the eye can go, having 2 million people lose their health insurance, turning your back on kids in schools and not funding 'No Child Left Behind' ... represents a vision," Kerry said in Queens, N.Y.
Michael Donilon, Kerry's senior campaign manager, told Fox News it was evident from Bush's potshots that the incumbent fears Kerry.
But "what was more surprising was that the president gave a speech last night where he failed to mention the fact we've lost more than 3 million jobs under his leadership," among other things, Donilon said. "In a lot of ways, the things the president failed to say last night are more telling … than the things he's said."
In what may have been a veiled dig at Kerry's chief rival, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (search), a former trial lawyer, Bush angrily urged Republican governors to limit medical malpractice awards.
"No one has ever been healed by a frivolous lawsuit," he said.
Edwards' camp is relaying the message that the candidate is the only one focused on getting things done.
Kerry and Bush "are talking about the past and Senator Edwards is the only candidate in this race talking about what American people are talking about, which is the future," Edwards spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri told Fox News on Tuesday. "He's the only candidate right now actually talking about the issues."
'We Gotta Stay on the Offense'
On Monday, Bush emphasized his go-after-the-terrorists theme that gave him a surge in the polls.
Bush said he took the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, "personally."
"I have a responsibility that goes on. I will never relent in bringing justice to our enemies. I will defend America, whatever it takes," he sad.
Earlier that day, he told the National Governors Association (search) that he would "actively pursue" the renewal of the Patriot Act so that the FBI, CIA and other agencies can share intelligence and effectively communicate with each other.
"We're fighting a war against individuals and killers that can hide in our community, hide in dark parts of the world, hide in caves and we need to be able to communicate. It makes no sense to not have those tools to take these killers down," Bush said.
He also said "the world is better off," with Saddam Hussein in custody and the United States will not "cut and run" before it helps Iraq get back on its feet.
Edwards supported the decision to go to war in Iraq, but opposed the $87 billion to continue military operations and aid in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kerry, who opposed the $87 billion package, supported going to war, but now says he did so based on faulty U.S. intelligence.
Fox News' Peter Brownfeld and The Associated Press contributed to this report.