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The 9/11 factor in election

Reelection ads that attempt to use attacks to boost Bush's standing carry risks and rewards.

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When the Bush reelection team rolled out its first TV ads last Thursday, chances are no one imagined that the firestorm over the use of 9/11 imagery would still be raging five days later.

At first blush, the controversy seemed to benefit George W. Bush. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are the defining moment of his presidency, and any discussion - good, bad, or ugly - brings the public back to his days of 90-plus percent approval ratings for his leadership.

But with nearly eight months to go before the Nov. 2 election - promising an odyssey of endless debate on a vast array of issues - some of those early assumptions are in question. Can the president overdo his use of one of the most shocking events in American history? And how, in this inevitably political season, can his presumed opponent, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, overcome the inherent disadvantage he faces in challenging a self-described war president?

At a Monitor breakfast Monday, Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman faced questions about continuing the use of 9/11 images in the campaign - including during the Republican National Convention in New York City right before the third anniversary of the attacks.

"I can guarantee you that the president will and the campaign will, as we have done, handle any discussions about Sept. 11 in an appropriate way, which is in a respectful way," said Mr. Mehlman. "But as we said last week when we unveiled the ads, one of the key questions that Americans will have to answer ... is how to keep our country safer or, frankly, about how to keep the economy going forward."

On how to take the appropriate lessons from Sept. 11, 2001, and avoid another such attack, he added, "There is a clear difference between where the president is and where Senator Kerry is."

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