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Inside Politics

Bush campaign says it won't pull 9/11 ads

Some victims' relatives support spots, others oppose them

• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
George W. Bush
September 11 attacks
Democratic Party

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Despite public calls from some firefighters and relatives of victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign said Sunday it is not considering pulling or changing television ads that include images of devastation from the attacks.

"This is an entirely appropriate effort on our part, we believe, to recall a memory and to recognize what it is that it's going to take in terms of leadership to lead the war on terror," campaign chairman Marc Racicot said on "Fox News Sunday." "That's precisely what the ads were designed to do. And we are very comfortable with how the public has reacted to them.

"We have not thought about pulling the ads," he said.

Racicot's comments come as the Republican National Committee is warning television stations across the country not to run ads from the Voter Fund that criticize President Bush, arguing that the group is paying for them with "soft money" contributions, raised in violation of the new campaign-finance law.

"As a broadcaster licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, you have a responsibility to the viewing public, and to your licensing agency, to refrain from complicity in any illegal activity," said the RNC's chief counsel, Jill Holtzman Vogel, in a letter sent to about 250 stations Friday.

But's lawyer, Joseph Sandler, said in a statement that the ads were funded legally, calling the RNC's letter "a complete misrepresentation of the law." (Full story) and other groups trying to defeat Bush have been raising money to help the Democratic nominee compete with the president's vast war chest in the period between the end of the Democratic primaries and the nominating conventions. The Bush-Cheney campaign, with more than $100 million, is spending $10 million in an initial advertising wave that includes the ads with the September 11 clips.

Two of the Bush-Cheney campaign commercials show brief images of the wreckage of the World Trade Center and firefighters carrying out a flag-draped victim.

The ads started airing Thursday on local stations in key battleground states and nationally on cable networks, including CNN.

Some relatives of September 11 victims have said they support Bush's use of the imagery, as did former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who led the city through the aftermath of the attacks.

But a group called September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and other victims' families not affiliated with that group have called on the president to pull the ads immediately, saying they are outraged that the images would be used for partisan political gain.

Rita Lasar, with the Peaceful Tomorrows group, lost a brother in the attacks. Joined by a New York firefighter and a man whose son died in the attack, she told reporters Friday that Bush had promised he would not use the site for political gain.

"To say that we're outraged is the truth, but it's more than outrage. It's a deep hurt and sorrow that any politician, Democrat or Republican, would seek to gain advantage by using that site," she said. Several Democrats, speaking Sunday, echoed the call for Bush to pull the ad.

"This is just the latest example of the way this president has been a divider and not a uniter," Tad Devine, senior adviser to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, said on ABC's "This Week." "He ran on a platform of compassionate conservatism said he would bring the country together. And through the course of his presidency, he has consistently divided it.

"And this is just another example where his insensitivity has divided people, and I think it's hurting our country," Devine added.

Bush himself addressed the issue Saturday, speaking to reporters at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Asked whether he would pull the ads, he responded, "I will continue to speak about the effects of 9/11 on our country and my presidency. I will continue to mourn the loss of life on that day, but I'll never forget the lessons. The terrorists declared war on us on that day, and I will continue to pursue this war."

Bush said he has an "obligation to those who died" that day. "I look forward to the debate about who best to lead this country in the war on terror."

But those complaining about the ads said that they objected not to Bush talking about the events, but to his use of the imagery for political purposes.

"That was what crossed the line," Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, said on CBS' "Face the Nation." He said the images imply that the firefighters support the president, despite the fact that the head of a New York firefighters union supports Kerry for president and has called for the ads to be pulled.

Rendell said the imagery also "reflects an insensitivity to the victims [and] the victims' families."

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