President Bush was the big attraction at a Republican Party dinner Wednesday that was expected to raise more than $22 million for Congressional candidates. Mr. Bush spoke at some length about the reasons why he should get another term in office.
The president's campaign message is clearly in transition.
After months of attacks on his likely Democratic Party opponent, John Kerry, Mr. Bush is putting his focus on the future. The goal is to give voters a clear picture of what he would do in a second term in office. "Because of our actions our economy is stronger, our schools are better, and our country is safer. We have turned the corner and there is no turning back. And in the weeks ahead I will lay out an agenda worthy of this advancing and competent country," he said.
The president put forward no specific plans in his speech to the party faithful at Washington DC's massive convention center. But he made clear he has heard the concerns of party activists who believe he needs to tell the American people what he wants to accomplish in the next four years.
They point to polls that show the president's job approval rating has slipped below 50 percent, and they acknowledge the re-election campaign is proving somewhat more difficult than expected.
In the coming weeks, Mr. Bush will provide more details of his second term agenda as he engages in a vigorous round of campaigning across the country. If his address to party leaders in Washington was any indication, his emphasis will be equally split between domestic and foreign affairs.
He told them that his domestic priority will be the broad concept of ownership, with government providing the tools to help Americans own their own homes, retirement accounts, and small businesses. "We will usher in a new era of ownership in America with an agenda to help all our citizens save and build and invest so every person owns a part of the American dream," he said.
Recalling the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks, Mr. Bush vowed his foreign policy agenda will make America and the world safer and more peaceful. "Over the next four years, we will continue to defend our homeland. We will continue to defeat the terrorists abroad. Yet in the long run, our safety requires something more. We must work to change the conditions that give rise to terror in the Middle East," he said.
The president did not completely drop his attacks on John Kerry - especially the charge that the Massachusetts senator voted against his request for funding for the war in Iraq. But his comments were more subdued than before, and took up only a few minutes of his speech.
The remarks came as Senator Kerry prepared to return to active campaigning after a few days spent preparing the address he will deliver next week to Democratic convention delegates and the nation. It will be a big opportunity for Mr. Kerry to introduce himself to the vast majority of American voters who want to know more about the man who hopes to put the White House back in Democratic Party hands with a win in the November election.