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Bush starts on poll road

Washington, May 16 (Reuters): President George W. Bush took the first step in his campaign for a second term today by forming a committee that will allow him to raise money and set up a headquarters for his re-election bid.

Bush, who plans in his campaign to emphasise national security and the need to restore growth in the weak US economy, will attend his first political fund-raising event of the 2004 election cycle on Wednesday night.

The President filed formal notice of his re-election bid with the Federal Election Committee, including a statement of candidacy and campaign organisation. He will be able to raise and spend money and open a campaign headquarters, which will be established in Northern Virginia.

White House political director Karl Rove will essentially run the campaign from the White House and political aide Ken Melhman will move to become Bush’s campaign manager, White House and Republican officials said. Mercer Reynolds, a Bush loyalist and former ambassador to Switzerland, will be named finance chairman of the campaign and Jack Oliver, deputy chief of the Republican National Committee, will be Reynolds’ deputy.

Republicans estimate Bush may raise $200 million for his re-election bid and expect him to have a large cash advantage over the Democratic candidate. Democrats have a crowded field of nine candidates struggling for name recognition and the attention of the voting public.

Bush, based on his performance in the war on terrorism, has maintained a relatively high job approval rating of more than 65 per cent. But presidential election campaigns often turn on an incumbent’s performance on the US economy, and polls give Bush far more modest marks in that area.

Bush hopes to avoid the fate of his father in the 1992 election, when then-President George Bush lost to Bill Clinton based on economic issues after seeing his Gulf War approval ratings fade from 90 per cent.

Bush will campaign with the same running mate as he did in the 2000 election, Dick Cheney, who said in recent weeks that he plans to be on the ticket and that he is in good health despite a history of heart trouble. Bush avoided overt politicking as US troops waged war in Afghanistan and then Iraq.

But with the war over, his first political event will be the annual President's Dinner on Wednesday night in Washington, benefiting Republican candidates for the U.S. Congress.

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