Bush: I'm The Real Reform Candidate ? Not McCain

By Jerry Miller | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - As he wound his way through Delaware, Texas Governor George W Bush claimed that he, and not his chief rival, Arizona Senator John McCain, is the real reform candidate.

It's a new approach for Bush, who has, at least for the time being, de-emphasized his "compassionate conservative" message in favor of the reform message that worked well for McCain in both New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The new strategy grew out of weekend meetings the Texan held with key advisors in Austin.

Campaigning in Dover, Delaware on Monday under a giant blue banner that read, "A Reformer With Results," Bush used the word "reform" nearly a dozen times in a 15 minute address while minimizing the endorsements he received from Delaware's Republican political establishment.

"I want to remind people in this race there is only one candidate who can stand up and say, 'I'm a reformer with results," the governor said. "I'm somebody who comes from outside the system, somebody who has a record of reforming and a record of results."

Bush let it be known that he, and he alone, as governor, has implemented reforms in welfare, education, taxes and tort reforms.

Campaigning in Michigan, McCain's reaction to the Bush declaration was swift. "I understand Governor Bush is now a reformer. If so, it's his first day on the job. I've been at it for 17 years. It seems to me the Bush campaign can't figure out whether to imitate me or attack me."

In addition to assuming the reform mantle, the Bush campaign also announced a new voter effort, "One on One With Governor Bush," as a strategy to convince voters that Bush is willing to listen and respond to their concerns. The device seems to resemble McCain's use of town meetings that worked so well in his double-digit New Hampshire primary win.

Bush and McCain also are fighting over the use of the word "outsider". McCain insists he is the true outsider since much of the GOP establishment favors Bush. For his part, Bush contends he is the outsider because he doesn't have a Washington, DC zip code.

In another Delaware appearance, Bush also stepped up his attack on McCain's central issue - campaign finance reform. In his strongest tone of the campaign, the Texas governor virtually accused McCain of being a hypocrite. "He has raised more money than anyone else in this campaign from lobbyists."

However, Bush's accusation is inaccurate. Data obtained from the Washington, DC-based Center for Responsive Politics shows Bush has raised much more money from lobbyists than has McCain. As of September 30th, the Bush figure stood at $480,464, as opposed to McCain's total of $96,675. McCain characterized the Bush accusation as "an act that some may view as desperation."

McCain also kept up his attack on Bush, airing a new television ad accusing the Texan of breaking his promise to conduct a positive campaign. The spot closes with an announcer asking, "Do we really want another politician in the White House that America can't trust?"