CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush said Thursday that, with Election Day some 10 weeks away, rival John Kerry (search) likely will propose new costly federal programs that would lead to tax increases on the middle-class.
"You know how tempting it is to get out in front of the people and make promise after promise," the president told several thousand supporters on the campus of New Mexico State University. "If he gets elected, he's going to tax you, but the good news is we're not going to let him get elected."
Flying to New Mexico after a week at his Texas ranch, Bush said Kerry has already proposed $2.2 trillion worth of new promises "and we're just getting started."
Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer responded later: "George Bush seems to have a problem being straight with the American people. John Kerry has been very clear about the fact that he will cut taxes for 98 percent of Americans. George Bush continues to avoid talking about the fact that his tax cuts have placed an increasingly larger portion of the tax burden onto the middle class."
Bush resumed his criticism of Kerry's record on the war in Iraq, saying the Democrat had repeatedly changed positions, an assertion seconded by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (search), who campaigned with Bush.
Giuliani attacked Kerry as a candidate who says something one day and something else the next and praised Bush for guiding the nation "through some of its most difficult days, some of our worst times."
Bush's return to the campaign trail came amid the uproar over ads by an outside group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search), attacking Kerry's war record by alleging he lied to get his medals. Aboard Air Force One heading for New Mexico, White House spokesman Scott McClellan (search) said the president wants to work with Republican Sen. John McCain (search) to pursue court action against all the political attack ads by outside groups.
As Bush campaigned in the Southwest, Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie (search) planned to speak out about the independent groups that have poured tens of millions of dollars into TV ads attacking both candidates. Bush has denounced all the ads, but refuses to specifically condemn the attacks on Kerry.
Bush is campaigning in three parts of the fast-growing state including its two largest cities as he tries to reverse a 366-vote loss four years ago.
Kerry running mate John Edwards also was campaigning in the state. Bush's first stop of the day was in Las Cruces, New Mexico's second-largest city. Edwards was in nearby Messila.
In the Las Cruces area of southern New Mexico, registered Democrats hold a significant edge over Republicans, 53 percent to 29 percent. Yet Bush lost the county encompassing Las Cruces by a mere 2,600 votes four years ago.
"There's a sizable proportion of moderate to conservative Democrats; those are the ones swinging elections," says New Mexico pollster Brian Sanderoff. "A large proportion of new voters unaffiliated with either party further cements New Mexico as a swing state, which is why Bush has been here so much."
And Hispanics account for nearly 39 percent of the voting age population in the state, which has 1.8 million residents. As of last June, there were 498,991 registered Democrats, 310,061 Republicans, 10,107 Greens and 139,220 independents and minor party voters.
Kerry has already made four trips to New Mexico this year, and Thursday marks Bush's fourth.
In the Albuquerque area, the GOP has held the area's congressional district for more than two decades, despite a sizable Democratic advantage in voter registration.
Nearly a third of the state's population is in the county where Albuquerque is.
Bush also makes an appearance in Farmington, an area filled with conservative supporters in the oil and gas country of northwest New Mexico.
There are nearly 32,000 newly registered Democrats in the state in the past 10 months, compared to just over 16,000 Republicans, a trend that looks bad for Bush.
Yet it is the pool of 19,986 new voters unaffiliated with either party that political analysts see as an important factor in the election.