Even before Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry announced that Sen. John Edwards would be his running mate, President Bush's reelection campaign today unveiled a new television commercial flaunting support for the incumbent from another senator it said was Kerry's "first choice" for the vice presidential nomination: John McCain.
In the advertisement, the Arizona Republican, who is popular with many independent voters, appears onstage with Bush and praises him lavishly as a warrior against terrorism.
"He has not wavered. He has not flinched from the hard choices," McCain says. "He was determined and remains determined to make this world a better, safer, freer place. He deserves not only our support but our admiration."
The 60-second ad, posted on Bush's campaign website by 8 this morning and then disseminated through national cable TV channels, belittled Kerry's choice of Edwards by reminding voters that Kerry had deliberated about creating a bipartisan ticket with two Vietnam War veterans, Kerry and McCain.
With the ad, Republicans essentially said of Edwards: He's no McCain. The Arizonan, a maverick within his party who lost to Bush in the 2000 race for the Republican nomination, recently set aside any differences with Bush to campaign with him.
But the GOP had many other things to say about Edwards as well, most of them derogatory, as both parties raced to shape perceptions of the new Democratic ticket.
Republicans called Edwards too inexperienced to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, too liberal in his single term as a North Carolina senator, and too closely identified with his former profession as a trial attorney.
Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) told Fox News Channel that Edwards "locks up the personal injury lawyer vote."
Sen. George Allen of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called Edwards "out of step with many of the values that voters throughout the country share."
Allen, whose home state borders North Carolina, also dismissed suggestions that Edwards would help Kerry compete in the South.
"People are gonna say, all right, well he's a smooth talker and he's got a Southern accent, but he votes the same as a Massachusetts liberal," Allen said of Edwards.
Republican operatives also distributed through e-mail extensive dossiers of quotations from Kerry that knocked Edwards during the Democratic primary season, and other material on Edwards' voting record in the Senate.
The National Journal, a nonpartisan Washington magazine that covers politics and government, recently rated Edwards as one of the most liberal senators.
In addition, business groups are expected to pounce on Edwards as an opponent of legislation limiting jury awards in civil lawsuits.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue told the Wall Street Journal that the choice of Edwards could force his organization to get directly involved in the race on behalf of Bush.
Bush, though, declined to echo these criticisms. Speaking with reporters today after a meeting in the Oval Office with the prime minister of Iceland, Bush said: "I welcome Senator Edwards on the ticket. The vice president called him early this morning to say — after the announcement was made — to say that he welcomes him to the race, and as do I. And I look forward to a good, spirited contest."