Aircraft Carrier Politics

President Bush flashes a "thumbs-up" after declaring the end of major combat in Iraq as he speaks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the California coast, in this May 1, 2003 file photo. Six months after he spoke on an aircraft carrier deck under a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished," President Bush disavowed any connection with the war message. Later, the White House changed its story and said there was a link.
AP
CBS News Reporter Steve Chaggaris is traveling with the Kerry campaign.

Six months after President Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln, which sported a banner declaring "Mission Accomplished," and announced that major combat in Iraq was over, Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign is the first to try to use that photo op against the president.

Two shots, one of Mr. Bush in a Navy flight suit and one showing the banner on the Lincoln, open a new TV ad that begins airing Tuesday in Iowa and New Hampshire. The ad then goes on to tout Kerry's candidacy.

"Who can take on George Bush and change the direction of the nation? John Kerry," the ad says.

It continues, calling Kerry "a leader on national security" and "a decorated combat veteran," and also mentions his service on the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.

Back in May, when the president landed on the Lincoln, critics complained that he had just set up the event for future campaign ads. Little did they think that events would later allow the Democrats to use it against him in their own ads.

Mr. Bush last month denied any involvement with the "Mission Accomplished" banner, saying it was the military's idea. "(It) was put up by the members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, saying that their mission was accomplished," he said.

As for the timing of Kerry's ad, it may be due to reports that rival Howard Dean was thinking of using the footage in an ad of his own.

Dean told the Boston Globe last week, "We're going to put up the aircraft carrier ad and show what his real defense is. …We're going to use this footage of him landing on the aircraft carrier . . . to show that he's all talk and no action."

But Dean spokesman Jay Carson told CBS News that there was and is no plan for Dean to make ads using the Bush aircraft carrier event. But Carson did use the opportunity to skewer Kerry over his Iraq vote last year.

"Kerry wants to question the war on Iraq now but he didn't question the war when it counted. He allowed George Bush to rush America into this war. No amount of TV commercials can change that," Carson said.

By Steve Chaggaris

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.