Rove: We Have Just Begun to Fight

White House political chief Karl Rove (search) said Wednesday that President Bush had just begun to demonstrate the kind of targeted, multi-front campaign he plans against Democratic rival John Kerry (search).

Addressing a small group of conservative activists, Rove assured them that Bush planned a nimble campaign able to counterpunch even before Kerry opens his mouth. The White House adviser pointed with pride to the Bush camp's response Tuesday, when it got word that Kerry planned a national security speech to veterans in West Virginia.

Less than 24 hours after learning of the speech, the Bush campaign produced an ad criticizing Kerry for his Senate votes on military spending. It also dispatched volunteers to hand out pro-Bush material to West Virginians, and started radio ads in the state.

The Bush campaign has material ready to go on Kerry based on his votes and speeches, said a Republican who attended the session. Whenever Kerry raises an issue, the Bush-Cheney campaign will be prepared to hand out leaflets, and run ads on TV and radio.

Kerry's vote authorizing force in Iraq, and on an array of military issues, put him "in a box" on the Iraq war, minimizing his ability to criticize Bush, Rove told the conservatives in the private meeting. In Rove's judgment, Kerry hurt himself by calling on one-time Democratic rival Howard Dean to voice support for him. Dean was a fierce critic of the Iraq war, but most Americans outside the Beltway back Bush on national security issues, Rove said.

Rove complained that Democrats were criticizing Bush for failing to stem joblessness, when the unemployment rate is roughly the same as it was during President Clinton's 1996 run. Unemployment in February of this year was 5.6 percent; in February 1996, it was 5.5 percent.

He also said the gay marriage issue is beginning to help Bush, because polls are starting to shift in Bush's direction, with more people opposed to same-sex unions. But Rove implored the activists to add their voices to Bush's call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to ensure that Bush is not perceived as standing alone on the issue.

And he expressed irritation that some disgruntled Republicans in Congress and elsewhere have increasingly chosen to go to the news media to air their complaints, rather than bringing them directly to the White House.

Rove headlines one of the last announced Bush-Cheney fund-raisers, an event in Alexandria, Va., on Thursday. The campaign also has announced a March 26 fund-raiser starring Vice President Dick Cheney (search) in Dayton, Ohio.

Two Republican officials said Bush plans a "last-hurrah"-style fund raiser March 31 in Washington.