WASHINGTON – Supporters of President Bush and some relatives of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are defending his new campaign ads, which show the wreckage of the World Trade Center (search).
"These images honor those whose lives were lost," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother, Charles, was the pilot of the plane that hijackers crashed into the Pentagon.
Bush's re-election campaign on Thursday began airing the commercials nationally on cable television and on broadcast stations in about 80 media markets in 18 states.
One ad shows the charred wreckage of the Twin Towers with an American flag flying amid the debris. Another -- and a Spanish-language version of it -- use that image and one of firefighters carrying a flag-draped stretcher.
In January 2002, just a few months after nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks, Bush told House and Senate leaders in a meeting at the White House that, "I have no ambition whatsoever to use this as a political issue" that election year.
On Thursday, his aides defended the ads as appropriate for an election about public policy and the war on terror.
"Sept. 11 changed the equation in our public policy. It forever changed the world," said Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary. "The president's steady leadership is vital to how we wage war on terrorism."
But the commercials have angered some victims' relatives and prompted a firefighters' union that backs Democratic presidential rival John Kerry (search) to demand that Bush pull them off the air.
"It's absolutely inappropriate," said Colleen Kelly, who lost her brother, Bill Kelly Jr., and leads Peaceful Tomorrows (search), a group for victims' families. "There are certain memories and certain images that I consider sacred."
In Bal Harbour, Fla., the International Association of Fire Fighters Union (search), which endorsed Kerry early in the presidential race, approved a resolution asking the Bush campaign to pull the ads and urging him to apologize to the families.
Kristen Breitweiser, of Middletown Township, N.J., whose husband, Ronald, died in the World Trade Center, said Bush should not use the tragedy as "political propaganda."
"Three thousand people were murdered on President Bush's watch," she said.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he did not object to reminding "the country and the world about the sacrifices that the New York City fire department and police department and civilians made."
And former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (search) said Bush's "leadership on that day is central to his record, and his continued leadership is critical to our ultimate success against world terrorism."
Deena Burnett, a Little Rock, Ark., resident whose husband, Tom, was a passenger on the plane that crashed into a Pennsylvania field, said the ads were "a perfect reminder of what happened that day."