WASHINGTON – President Bush responded Thursday to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's (search) new ad in New Mexico with a commercial of his own that criticizes the Democrat by asking, "How can John Kerry win a war if he doesn't know the enemy?"
Kerry's ad, which never mentioned Bush, claimed the Massachusetts senator was the "author of a strategy to win the war on terror," a reference to his 1997 book, "The New War: The Web of Crime That Threatens America's Security."
But Bush's ad argues that Kerry's book doesn't relate to terrorism but rather to fighting global crime, such as "Japanese yakuza" gangsters. The ad says that the book "never mentions al-Qaida," "says nothing about Osama bin Laden," and "calls Yasser Arafat a 'statesman."'
"The New Republic says Kerry's plan 'misses the mark.' And Kerry's focus? Global crime, not terrorism," the ad says.
Chad Clanton, a Kerry campaign spokesman, said Bush is the one who "doesn't understand the depth and breadth of the terrorism challenges we face."
"In the nine months before September 11th, this president didn't have a single Cabinet-level meeting on terrorism," Clanton said. "But four years before September 11th, John Kerry wrote a book on the impending threat of international terrorism and how to take it on. The facts speak for themselves."
Richard Falkenrath, a former National Security Council (search) staff member, criticized Kerry's "strategy" in a conference call the Bush campaign held, calling it "a platitudinous little book."
"I'm really quite astonished that the Kerry campaign has chosen to pick it up as its strategy for winning the war on terror," Falkenrath said. "This is an ad on other issues — not terrorism."
The two campaigns are running their ads only at very low levels in the Albuquerque media market.
This week, the New Mexico ads are an anomaly. Neither candidate is on the air anywhere else because of expected low television viewership during the July 4 holiday weekend.
The race appears to be close in New Mexico, which Al Gore won in 2000 by less than 1 percentage point.
Bush's campaign created its ad overnight, releasing it one day after Kerry launched his ad, which was meant to counter a commercial running there by Progress for America Voter Fund. The pro-Republican group, an affiliate of one created by longtime Republican consultant Tony Feather, is running an ad in New Mexico questioning Kerry's ability to "hunt down terrorists."
Without naming Bush, Kerry's commercial, which references the book and his 19-year Senate career, subtly suggests that the Democrat is more prepared to lead a nation at war than Bush.