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Some 9/11 relatives anger by Bush ads
Updated: 2004-03-05 08:49

The Bush-Cheney re-election campaign on Thursday defended its use of footage of the wreckage of the World Trade Center in political ads, amid criticism from some of the families of September 11, 2001, victims.

The ads, part of a multimillion dollar television blitz that began Thursday, describe President Bush's leadership as the country faced a series of challenges including "an economy in recession, a stock market in decline," the end of the dot-com boom and the September 11 attacks.

Some of the families of September 11 victims have criticized the decision to use images of the wreckage of the fallen twin towers in two of the spots.

"When I look at the ads and I see Bush speaking over the pictures of Ground Zero, I know in my heart that President Bush failed the 3,000 Americans that died there on that day," Patty Casazza, whose husband died in the attacks, told CNN.

The ads also show firefighters at the scene of the disaster, something that draw a rebuke from one firefighters' union.

"Bush is calling on the biggest disaster in our country's history, and indeed in the history of the fire service, to win sympathy for his campaign," said Harold Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters. That union is backing Sen. John Kerry's bid for the presidency.

In a written statement, Kerry called it "astonishing" that the Bush ad would feature a shot of the wreckage when, Kerry said, many fire departments lack adequate equipment. Democrats charge the administration is not providing enough funds for first responders.

"George Bush has lost credibility with the American people," Kerry said.

But Deena Burnett, whose husband died in the crash of United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, told CNN the ads were appropriate.

"I'm glad he's using them," Burnett said. "I think it serves as a reminder of the lives that were lost on September 11th."

Bush advisor Karen Hughes, in an interview with CNN, defended the ads.

"I respectfully, completely disagree," Hughes said of the criticism. "Your viewers saw the ad. I think it's very tasteful. It's a reminder of our shared experience as a nation. I mean September 11 is not just some distant tragedy from the past, it really defined our future."

And Rudy Giuliani, a Republican who was New York's mayor when the attacks occurred, said the ads reflect Americans' "shared experience."

"President Bush has provided the steady, consistent and principled leadership to bring our country through the worst attack in our history," he said in a statement distributed by the president's re-election campaign.

David Gergen, a former advisor to both Democratic and Republican presidents, said the Bush-Cheney campaign has to be careful in how it uses images from the attacks.

"They have to salute, but not exploit it. It's a fine line," Gergen told CNN.

Bush in California

President Bush, meanwhile, was in California for the second day, telling prospective voters that his tax cuts have spurred economic growth and declaring that Americans "are feeling confident and optimistic."

Bush, who has seen his approval ratings slide during the Democratic primary contests, has adopted a more aggressive posture and no longer attempts to portray himself as above the campaign fray.

"The economy's strengthening because of the decision-making that is taking place," Bush told a crowd in Bakersfield, California.

On Wednesday, Kerry was in Florida, which holds its primary on Tuesday and will be a key battleground state in the presidential race.

It was his first campaign stop after sweeping nine out of 10 states Tuesday, virtually locking up the Democratic nomination.

In an indication that he will seek to win over independents and moderate Republicans, Kerry told a crowd at a town hall meeting in Orlando that he believes "there are reasonable Republicans out there who know that there's nothing conservative or mainstream Republican" about Bush's handling of the economy, education, the environment and foreign policy.

The campaign said Kerry raised $1.1 million in less than 18 hours after his Super Tuesday victories. Also, 1,500 new volunteers signed up in that time, the campaign said. 

The liberal grass-roots organization MoveOn.org is also to begin an advertising campaign attacking Bush on Thursday, citing the nation's economic struggles. The group's five-day ad buy cost $1.9 million.

Sen. John Edwards, who until Tuesday was fighting Kerry for the nomination, officially announced the suspension of his campaign Wednesday in a speech in his home state of North Carolina.

New York civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio remain in the race, although they have collected few delegates.

Bush takes aim at Kerry

While in California, Bush drew his sharpest distinctions yet between himself and Kerry, saying he looks forward "to setting the alternatives squarely before the American people" in the upcoming presidential campaign.

"This should be an interesting debate on the issues. He's spent two decades in Congress. He's built up quite a record," Bush said of Kerry at a fund-raiser in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. "In fact, Senator Kerry's been in Washington long enough to take both sides on just about every issue."

Bush raised $800,000 at his evening appearance in Los Angeles, adding to the more than $140 million his campaign has raised so far. He has about $104 million on hand.  

The Kerry campaign has a fraction of that amount.

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