Republicans tour N.H. to make their case for Bush’s re-election

With Democrats still picking a nominee, George W. Bush’s re-election team already was at work punching holes in the opposition and touting reasons the Republican president deserves a second term.

At a downtown taqueria, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani served notice that the GOP ground forces had arrived to counter the Democratic assault on the president.

“We’re here to set the record straight,” Giuliani said Saturday. “The last two or three months, the emphasis has been ‘attack the president.’ We Republicans feel the president’s case deserves to be laid out.”

Giuliani was followed in recent days by New York Gov. George Pataki and Sen. John McCain, whose insurgent campaign upended Bush four years ago in New Hampshire.

President Bush has scheduled a New Hampshire visit on Thursday, two days after its primary.

“There is going to be an election in November, and it is going to be close,” said Giuliani, declining to identify which Democrat the president would most – or least – like to face this fall.

“They’re all pretty much saying the same thing. They’re against the way he’s waging war on terrorism,” he said. “Each one of the Democrats wants to raise taxes; the only disagreement is how much.”

The Bush re-election effort, under the coordinated command of White House political chief Karl Rove and Campaign Manager Ken Mehlman, has been preparing for months.

Teams of GOP researchers have sifted through the challengers’ backgrounds to find lines of attack. And Bush backers have been dispatched to early primary states with instructions to praise his tax cuts and handling of the war on terrorism and to dismiss the Democrat field as too liberal.

Early on, Republicans focused on Howard Dean, who finished third in Iowa behind John Kerry and John Edwards.

But Kerry, after winning Iowa and assuming front-runner status, soon found himself the target of GOP Chairman Ed Gillespie.

Citing the Massachusetts senator’s high ratings from the liberal organization Americans for Democratic Action, Gillespie said, “Whether it’s economic policy, national security policy, or social issues, John Kerry is out of sync with most voters.”

The Kerry camp dismissed the accusation as baseless.

New Hampshire GOP strategist David Carney said Dean still could prove dangerous if he can rally his base and generate passion as a political outsider able to attract new voters.

“All these other guys have serious problems,” said Carney. “How are they going to get disaffected Democrats back to the polls?”

Monday, McCain returned to the place that proved his biggest triumph in 2000 to stump for the man who eventually beat him in a bitter fight for the GOP nomination.

“I have some disagreements with him, but that doesn’t mean that his overall record doesn’t deserve re-election,” McCain said.

He said he has no ill feelings lingering from his clash with Bush. “The worst thing that anyone in life or politics can do,” he said, “is look back in anger.”