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Kerry airs response to Bush attack ad

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Stay with CNN-USA for our political team's updates and analysis on the battle of the campaign ads and other aspects of the race for the White House.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The race for the White House remained remarkably combative Friday as Sen. John Kerry's campaign released an ad accusing President Bush of "misleading America."

The 30-second message is a response to the first negative ads from the Bush campaign, which attacked the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

"Doesn't America deserve more from its president than misleading, negative ads?" the ad asks rhetorically.

The Bush ads, which debuted Thursday in 16 to 18 states viewed as key November battlegrounds, consist of two television spots and one radio spot. (The Morning Grind: He started it!)

One of the ads -- named "100 Days" -- is his first TV commercial directly attacking Kerry.

The ad said Kerry plans to "raise taxes by at least $900 billion" and weaken the Patriot Act "used to arrest terrorists and protect America."

Kerry has not called for a $900 billion tax increase, but the Bush campaign explained that a tax hike that large would be needed to pay for programs Kerry has promised.

The ad also says Kerry "wanted to delay defending America until the United Nations approved."

Kerry's ad responds, "Once again, George Bush is misleading America. John Kerry has never called for a $900 billion dollar tax increase. He wants to cut taxes for the middle class."

It also says, "John Kerry will crack down on the export of American jobs, get health care costs under control, and cut the deficit."

It ends with the tag-line, "John Kerry -- a new direction for America."

The tug-of-war only begins with the commercials, however.

The Bush campaign has already issued a response to the Kerry ad.

Campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt called it "a futile attempt to obscure the fact that John Kerry's new spending proposals would result in a tax hike for all Americans. The only mystery that remains is exactly how much every American will have to pay to cover the tab."

The Bush campaign's second ad released Thursday contained a clear reference to Kerry on another front.

It warned, "We can go forward with confidence, resolve and hope. Or we can turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat."

On CNN's "American Morning," Kerry adviser Tad Devine said the senator from Massachusetts "has been defending America his whole adult life, and he absolutely will be very strong on the defense of this nation."

Bush Campaign adviser Mary Matalin told "American Morning," "We are not saying anything that we need to apologize for. So it's time to stop the distortion, stop the histrionics, and let's engage on the issues."

She added, "These aren't negative ads, they are ready-to-engage-on-the-issues ads. We talk about the senator's policies, his programs, his record. If he thinks that's negative then he needs to look at his own record."

Bush campaign officials also pointed out that Kerry has been airing advertisements attacking Bush for months, as he sought the Democratic presidential nomination. ( Special Report: America Votes 2004)

Bush's ads have aired nationally on cable networks, including CNN, and in 18 key battleground states.

Kerry's ad is airing in 16 of those states.

The Kerry campaign has only a fraction of Bush's $100 million-plus war chest. It has picked up $7 million since Kerry effectively clinched the nomination on March 3, campaign officials said.

The Kerry team also launched a Web site called "D-bunker" designed to "beat back misleading Bush attacks."

Kerry advisers say part of his strategy is to show he is a candidate who won't back down. They point to an incident this week in which he was caught, in what appeared to be an unguarded moment, calling those who are attacking him "the most crooked, you know, lying group of people I've ever seen."

The Bush campaign called for an apology, but Kerry refused, saying he stands by his comments about a Republican "attack machine." (Full story)

Front and center on his Web site Friday were the words "No apologies for Republican attack squad."

"I think his message, and the message of our campaign to the Bush campaign, is simply this: we're not going to take it. You can send all these people out, attack Kerry, his patriotism, his service to the country -- we're simply not going to take it, we're going to push back" Devine said.

But Bush's campaign has said Kerry's attacks send a different message -- that Kerry is an angry liberal offering little more than partisan rhetoric.

Said Matalin, "It's time to talk about the issues, and get past the Bush bashing."

CNN's Bob Franken, John King, and John Mercurio contributed to this report.

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