In the U.S. presidential race, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is demonstrating that he can compete with President Bush in the critical area of campaign fundraising.

Senator Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, raised $30 million in April alone, twice as much as the Bush campaign for the same period.

So far, the Kerry campaign has raised a total of $115 million for the 2004 election, still well behind the $200 million donated so far to the president's re-election effort.

Senator Kerry's fundraising prowess signals a hard fought campaign between now and November, a campaign that is increasingly being dominated by Iraq and the war on terrorism.

President Bush returned to that theme in a commencement speech at Louisiana State University on Friday.

"We will complete the mission for which so many have served and sacrificed and the world can be certain we will defend the freedom and security of this nation whatever it takes," he said.

While supporting the goal of a democratic and secure Iraq, Senator Kerry has not shied away from criticizing the president on his handling of both Iraq and the war on terrorism.

He spoke about it recently on the Don Imus program on MSNBC television.

"I just think the president is making catastrophic mistakes for our country," he said. "I think I can fight a more effective war on terror, Don. I believe I can bring other countries to the table."

Public opinion polls show the president's favorability ratings have taken a plunge because of the unrest in Iraq and the prisoner abuse scandal.

David Frum is a former Bush speechwriter who has written a new book on the war on terror. He told VOA's Press Conference USA program that the president must continue to make his case to the American public that Iraq is central to the overall war on terrorism.

"The president makes this case every day that Iraq is essential to the war on terror," he said. "I think that is absolutely right. It is part of it and was inherent in it from the beginning. And if he can continue to persuade the American people that he is right about that, then he wins."

But Mr. Frum also says the Iraq war presents an opportunity for Senator Kerry.

"If John Kerry can sever the Iraq war from everything else and say, look, we are all in favor of the parts of the war that went easily and well, but we are against these parts of the war that present unexpected difficulties and they are separate and we don't have to do them and we can just forget about them, if he can make that case, then he will do well," he said.

The uncertainty in Iraq and rising gasoline prices at home have given the White House plenty to worry about less than six months to election day.

"A president has many advantages, the power of the incumbency being the biggest one," said Tom Defrank, Washington Bureau Chief for the New York Daily News and a guest on the Issues in the News program on VOA. "A president can also be hammered and hamstrung and brought down by events over which he has very little control."

Concern over Iraq pushed the president's approval ratings down to 42 and 46 percent in two recent polls. Historically, consistent approval ratings under 50 percent have been an indicator of political trouble for presidents seeking re-election.