Bush runs into trouble over ad imagery

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President Bush launched his long-awaited advertising blitz against his democratic opponent John Kerry yesterday - only to run into criticism for using images of the national tragedy of 11 September for political ends.

The advertising spots, depicting Mr Bush as a strong, optimistic and decisive leader, began running in 17 states, including some which will be main battlegrounds in the presidential election in November. Unusually, they will concentrate heavily on cable outlets, including car-racing and other sports channels, to reach swing voters unlikely to pay great attention to regular news programmes.

The first wave is mainly positive, featuring a warm and fuzzy Mr Bush declaring: "I know exactly where I want to lead this country ... I know what we need to do.'' It will be followed, Republican strategists say, by harder-hitting ads attacking Mr Kerry as weak, indecisive and out of touch with mainstream America.

But hardly had they begun to air before some relatives of the 11 September victims, and the firefighters' union whose members paid a heavy price that day, protested that the pictures of the rubble of the World Trade Center, were exploiting the disaster for partisan purposes.

But Republicans hit back, arguing Mr Kerry, a former war hero, had done the same thing when he used footage of Vietnam in his own advertisements. "Thousands died in the present war against terror, just as thousands of Americans died in that war,'' a party official said.

The Bush campaign has been forced by Mr Kerry's unexpected lead in the polls to begin its advertising counter attack earlier than planned. It will cost anywhere between $4.5m (£2.5m) and $10m - a relative pittance given the $150m the President has already raised.