A ?New Bush? To Emerge in Delaware and in South Carolina

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

(CNSNews.com) - After a weekend spent in Austin to rethink campaign strategy and to prepare for Delaware and beyond, aides to George W Bush promised that the Texas governor would conduct a more focused and aggressive Republican presidential campaign.

The reassessment followed the governor's nearly 20-point loss to Arizona Senator John McCain in the February 1st New Hampshire primary.

A campaign operative, who did want his name used, said Bush will increase his campaign schedule as well as increase criticism of his chief rival. The more aggressive approach includes the filming of new television spots with even more ads on different media in the works.

Even the possibility of additional critical spots already has prompted a sharp retort from McCain. Appearing Sunday at the California GOP State Convention - a meeting Bush did not attend but where he was represented by his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush - McCain told the gathering, "I say to my friend Governor Bush that we do not need petty, negative ads and personal attacks...those are the tactics of Clinton and Gore, candidates we should defeat and not imitate."

"A campaign for the great office of the presidency should be about far bigger things...if you don't compete in the arena of ideas and leadership, you're not ready for the job," McCain added.

In the past, McCain made only indirect references to his opponent's readiness to hold the nation's highest elective office. That was done in a 30-second spot in which McCain insisted he was ready now to be president and would require no "on-the-job-training." That spot and a similar statement made during town meeting appearances did not mention Bush by name.

McCain also used the California appearance to pointedly make fun of Bush. "I am sorry to see Governor Bush can't be here today. I understand he's back in Austin, finishing up his new book, 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Coronation'."

While Bush has spent 11 days in California, McCain has been largely absent since late summer and is expected to spend several days there prior to the primary. The campaign contends his eventual success will be heavily influenced by the South Carolina results. Much as his position in South Carolina seems to have been heavily influenced by the New Hampshire results.

In what is perhaps another lesson learned in New Hampshire, the so-called "new Bush" also is committed to increasing the number of appearances he makes in the course of a campaign swing. In the Granite State, while McCain hurried from one town meeting to another, Bush often had whole blocks of down time scheduled into his day. That included the day before the primary when the campaign had scheduled virtually no activities and found itself improvising in order to keep their man in the public eye. Those events included such photo opportunities as bowling, sledding and a makeshift snowball fight.

The possibility of a more aggressive Bush has also resulted in comments from some McCain surrogates, including former Congressman Vin Weber, who accused Bush of "stooping to a new low by twisting my words to mislead voters."

Weber was referring to a statement issued by the Bush campaign quoting the former lawmaker as saying he could support the Texan's tax plan, which is more than twice the size of McCain's, and is one that McCain contends does nothing to save Social Security or pay off the national debt.

"Desperate campaigns take desperate measures and this one is as sad as it is transparent," said Weber.

McCain also did his share of firing back at Bush by criticizing his nemesis for faulting his commitment to the nation's war veterans during a South Carolina appearance.

In the last few days, McCain also has stepped up the number of references to former President Ronald Reagan, telling audiences that Reagan has long been his model. "We sent him to Washington to do battle with those forces who stand between the American people and the American dream. It's time to recover our heritage of reform," McCain said.