Republicans attack Soros plan for £7m campaign against Bush

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The Independent US

As America steels itself for a year dominated by the presidential election, the incumbent, George Bush, is turning his sights not just on the nine Democratic candidates vying to challenge him. There is a tenth target who will not be in the race, but who means to influence it - with cash.

In a fund-raising e-mail sent to Republican supporters at the weekend, the Bush campaign singled out for attack George Soros, the Hungarian-born financier who plans to use part of his fortune to help those who would turf the President from the White House.

Mr Soros has pledged $12.5m (£7m) to ensure that "we can write off the Bush doctrine as a temporary aberration". The financier has been especially critical of Mr Bush's foreign policy and of the Iraq war. The Bush camp e-mail message warns: "Liberal special interests, led by billionaire currency trader George Soros, are raising millions in soft, unregulated money to defeat President Bush."

The e-mail cites Mr Soros's activities, which include his support for grassroots groups wanting to undermine Mr Bush's re-election campaign, as reason for Republicans to donate money to the President.

The message also implies that these groups are accepting funds from abroad which, if proved, could create legal problems for the Democrat nominee.

The e-mail adds: "To beat these billionaire liberals and the flood of foreign money they're encouraging, we need your help today."

Mr Bush is unlikely to be short of money. The President has so far raised $110m (£62.1m) for the primary campaign, even though no one is challenging him for the party nomination. He plans to increase the primary war chest to about $170m (£95.9m). Celia Wexler, the research director of the good-government group, Common Cause, said: "The Bush campaign is raising money hand over fist. He has the aura of the incumbency and the power of the presidency. He's in the catbird seat."

Even Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor, who leads the Democrat nominees in most polls, falls short of Mr Bush's efforts in terms of fund-raising.

But officials in the President's re-election camp have warned that anti-Bush advocacy groups, such as the internet-based group, are on track to raise about $400m (£225.8m) to influence the campaign and help whoever wins the Democrat nomination.

Mr Soros argues that he is motivated by Mr Bush's fund-raising advantage. Earlier this month he told The Washington Post: "My contributions help to ensure that the money spent on trying to re-elect President Bush doesn't overwhelm the process."

He added that he was "deeply concerned with the direction in which the Bush administration is taking the United States and the world". denies that it has been taking money from anti-Bushites abroad. It is, however, working hard to get its "down with Bush" message out to voters.

The group recently launched a competition for anyone with a talent for film-making to produce a 30-second television piece to highlight where liberals believe the President has gone wrong. Dubbed "Bush in 30 Seconds", the competition is partly run by Mr Soros's son, Jonathan Soros.

More than 1,500 entries have been submittedvia the internet and a panel of judges, who include the music stars Moby and REM frontman Michael Stipe, will select the winning piece. It will be submitted for broadcast on the week of the President's State of the Union address.

North Carolina Senator John Edwards, a Democratic presidential candidate, said yesterday he was "absolutely not interested" in a vice-presidential slot.

Asked if he would run in the second slot with one of the Democratic candidates, Mr Edwards, a first-term senator with fewer than five years of political experience, said: "I'm absolutely not interested in being vice-president. No. The answer to that question is no."