A retired U.S. Air Force general who endorsed President Bush (search) four years ago says in a new television ad by the Democratic Party that this year he will vote for John Kerry (search) because the Democrat has "a real strategy to make America safer."

The ad featuring Merrill A. McPeak was released by an arm of the Democratic National Committee a day after Kerry lashed back against allegations by a veterans group that he exaggerated his combat record in Vietnam.

McPeak, Air Force chief of staff during the first Persian Gulf War, claims in the ad that Kerry "has the strength and common sense we need in a commander in chief. And, something more: a real strategy to make America safer."

Ellen Moran, head of the DNC ad effort, said the ad is intended to highlight Kerry's "strengths on terror and homeland security issues" because "the Bush campaign and their allies continue to distort John Kerry's record on the military."

Plus, Moran said, the ad shows voters the kind of "military brass" backing the Massachusetts senator.

The ad includes a picture of McPeak in uniform and other top military officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell (search), a Republican who was a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Powell supports Bush, although he's attempting to maintain a traditional secretary of state's distance from election-year politics.

Steve Schmidt, a Bush spokesman, said Bush's campaign has not distorted Kerry's national security record. "Look, the fact is John Kerry voted against money for body armor for combat troops in Afghanistan," he said.

The party's independent expenditure office, which can't legally coordinate with Kerry's campaign, will run the ad starting Saturday on national cable networks and in local media markets in 20 competitive states where it has been on the air since early this month. The spot also will air in Arkansas, where Kerry had run commercials earlier this summer before pulling them to redistribute resources to other states.

Bush has been on the air alone in the state that he won in 2000 by 8 percentage points. Kerry and DNC officials say they've noticed in their polling that since the Democratic convention that Arkansas has become more competitive, and the party is taking another shot at the state. Also, a Democratic presence on the airwaves would counter Bush's ads.

The DNC is filling in for Kerry this month while he stays off the air to save money for a tight election fight. The group has spent at least $20 million in TV and radio commercials since first going on the air earlier this month, and just committed another $8 million or so to TV and radio ads for next week.

The new ad will rotate with a previously released DNC spot comparing Kerry and Bush on the issue of health care.