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White House Defends Bush Re-election Ads, as President Campaigns  in California

President Bush's re-election campaign has begun airing millions of dollars worth of television ads in more than a dozen states that both sides see as key to victory. Some of these early election-year commercials are creating controversy.

The ads never mention the president's likely Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Instead, they focus on bolstering the image of Mr. Bush, and point to his record during trying times.

"Some challenges we have seen before. And some were like no others. But America rose to the challenge," says one commercial.

The words are not the source of the controversy, as much of the pictures that accompany them.

Two of the ads include video footage of the aftermath of the September ll, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, including the ruins of New York's World Trade Center juxtaposed against an American flag.

Relatives of some of the victims have criticized the commercials, saying the Bush re-election campaign is using a moment of personal tragedy for political gain.

Aides to the president strongly deny that is the case. White House spokesman Scott McClellan says it is important to remember the lessons of September 11, saying the events of that day forever changed the world.

He told reporters traveling with the president in California that steady leadership is vital to how the United States wages the war on terrorism, adding that Americans must decide how best to continue that battle.

Mr. Bush touched on the issue during his California campaign stops. At a luncheon with supporters in Santa Clara, he talked about his commitment to achieve victory over the terrorist threat.

"Great events will turn on this election," he said. "The man who sits in the Oval Office will set the course of the war on terror and the direction of our economy. The security and prosperity of America are at stake."

The president said John Kerry has not offered any strategy to win the war, or boost economic growth. And although Senator Kerry is not yet his party's official nominee, Mr. Bush referred to him as "my opponent."

"So far all we hear from that side is a lot of old bitterness, and partisan anger," he said. "Anger is not an agenda for the future of America."

President Bush launched his two-day campaign swing in California on Wednesday, one day after voters in that state cast ballots to help choose the Democrat who will run against him.

Republican officials in California say they plan an all-out effort to win the state in November, even though it has sided with the Democratic candidate in recent presidential elections. They point to the popularity of the new Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and an increase in new party members.

The Bush campaign also has reason to be pleased with its fund-raising in California. The president raised over $700,000 at just one event in Santa Clara. Campaign officials say supporters in California have now contributed a total of about $12.5 million to his re-election effort.