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Dem Ads Question Bush on Iraq, Economy

The Democratic Party questions President Bush's credibility on Iraq and the economy in a new campaign ad showing the Republican declaring an end to major combat while standing on an aircraft carrier adorned with a "Mission Accomplished" banner.

"How can you solve problems when you won't even admit they're there?" asks the ad, which will start running Friday in battleground states and on national cable networks.

The commercial is the first of the general election by the national parties or the presidential campaigns to show Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln (search) in May 2003. In the ad, Bush says: "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. The United States and our allies have prevailed."

Showing Bush in a flight suit hugging Navy pilots, the ad then says that since the president made that declaration, "867 more American soldiers have been killed in Iraq" and the war has cost "$100 billion."

Switching to the other top issue in the presidential campaign, the ad then shows Bush saying "the economy is strong. The economy is getting better." Newspaper headlines tell a different story: "Sharp rise in poverty reported," "Record 45 million people lack coverage," "The Gap in Wages is Growing Again for U.S. Workers."

The ad is the latest effort by the party to question Bush's character. Presidential challenger John Kerry's campaign, recently reshuffled to include former advisers to President Clinton, has polls and focus groups suggesting that the Democrat can't win unless he undermines Bush's credibility.

In that effort, Kerry's campaign also rolled out an ad Thursday challenging Bush's depiction of Kerry's health care plan as government controlled. "George Bush's health care attack against John Kerry (search): Not true," Kerry's ad says.

Bush's campaign criticized Democrats for "fundamentally misleading" voters through the ads.

"John Kerry's campaign is continuing with its strategy of trying to tear down the president's record because it can't run on John Kerry's 20-year record in the Senate or John Kerry's vision for the future because it's out of the mainstream," said Steve Schmidt, a Bush campaign spokesman.

Schmidt said the Iraq mission was indeed accomplished for the troops aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln and contended that Kerry had no credibility on Iraq given "his nine positions on the issue."

Ellen Moran, who heads up the Democratic National Committee's independent expenditure office, said voters know Bush made mistakes and that he won't own up to them. "Clearly, he was unprepared. Clearly, he made a mistake and he needs to be held accountable," she said.

Moran's office, which can't coordinate with Kerry's campaign, is spending roughly $7 million over the next week to run ads on national cable networks and in 16 battleground states, including New Mexico. The DNC is going back on the air there after a weeklong hiatus.

Kerry ran a commercial last November in Iowa and New Hampshire during the Democratic primary that featured clips of Bush aboard the aircraft carrier. In that ad, Kerry was portrayed as the only Democrat who could challenge the commander in chief.

Meanwhile, the liberal political action committee MoveOn.org started running an ad Thursday that says of Bush: "He said 'Mission Accomplished,' yet almost every day more soldiers die."

The anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has rolled out a spot for New Mexico and Nevada that asks about Kerry, "Can you trust anything he says?"