WASHINGTON: A highly publicized speech mocking Democratic front-runner Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) last Monday marked the unofficial launch of President Bush's re-election bid, said campaign press secretary Scott Stanzel.
"I would say that this speech was the beginning of a new period of engagement for the President and a stepped up level of activity for the campaign," he said. The kickoff will continue this Thursday as the first round of TV ads begin airing in selected states.
Stanzel denied reports that sinking poll numbers led the President to change strategy, abandoning an earlier plan to remain politically "above the fray" until later this year.
"There's been lots of speculation, but we've always indicated that we were anxious for a debate once the race narrowed to two people," he said. "We were always aware of the timeline for the Democratic nominating process, and, ultimately, it's up to the President to decide when to engage."
The campaign's launch coincides with the establishment of a national network of spokesmen. Stanzel, formerly of the White House Office of Media Affairs, reports to director of communications Terry Holt. Below him are five regional spokesmen, all based at campaign headquarters in Northern Virginia, who handle media inquiries; a rapid-response team charged with countering negative attacks; and a "surrogate" team that finds guests to appear on the President's behalf on television shows, radio programs, and internet chats.
Alexandria, VA-based National Media is handling the media buy for this week's ads.
Other sources close to the campaign said it was still not clear whether the President would make a formal declaration of his intention to seek re-election. Several reports last week said Bush would forego an announcement, echoing Bill Clinton's 1996 effort.