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US Presidential Candidates Campaign in High Gear - 2004-05-03

The U.S. presidential election is six months off, but President Bush and his likely opponent John Kerry are campaigning like it is just weeks away. They are traveling across the country and spending millions of dollars on television ads.

The president is in the midst of his first formal non-stop campaign trip of the year, a series of rallies and other events paid for with private funds from his re-election committee.

He flew to the American Midwest Monday morning, giving up his presidential jet in the state of Indiana for a red, white and blue bus that is now winding its way through the cities and towns of Michigan and Ohio.

He is leading a convoy of eight buses, each bearing a sign with the words "Yes, America Can." It is the slogan for this initial bus trip of the 2004 Bush campaign, a slogan designed to project optimism in a region still waiting to feel the full effects of the economic recovery.

In the town of Niles, Michigan the president focused on this positive theme. "One reason why I am upbeat is because I understand the strength and character of the American people," he said.

In Niles, the president made a campaign speech at a local high school and took questions from residents of the community. Most dealt with the economy. But in his formal remarks, Mr. Bush spoke first about national security.

He said his primary job as president is to keep the American people safe. "When I was campaigning in Michigan in 2000, I never would have dreamt I would be standing in front of you four years later saying we are at war. It never crossed my mind. But we are at war," he said.

The president said he has a plan to win the war on terrorism. He said America is on the offensive and will not relent.

But in a speech in Washington, the likely Democratic nominee challenged the president's handling of the terrorist threat.

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry went before the national meeting of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization established to fight anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry. He said America needs to work more with other countries, and find common ground. "I intend to be a president who understands how you, in fact, make the United States of America safer and how you fight the most effective war on terror," he said.

Mr. Kerry also used the occasion to reaffirm his support for Israel, and said if elected he will work continuously to bring about a resolution of the long running Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

All this happened on the day the Kerry campaign unveiled a new $25 million series of television advertisements. The ads, which highlight his service in the military during the Vietnam War, will begin running Tuesday in 19 states.