After a turbulent first presidency,
Bush is hoping Americans will
re-elect him for a second term

But the campaign got off to a bad start on Saturday when Bush's Democratic opponents united in attacking the president on an issue he prides himself on: national security.

Criticising him for spending less on domestic defence in order to guarantee greater tax cuts for the well-off, 2004 contenders said Bush talks tough on homeland security but does not deliver, advancing a right-wing agenda instead.

Florida Senator Bob Graham warned that the administration had a golden opportunity to destroy Al Qaeda network but did not follow through.

"We had them on the ropes, but we let them regenerate," Graham was quoted as saying in the Washington Post.

Al Sharpton cited the uncertainty about Bin Laden. "Mr Bush, the question you have not answered is, `Where is bin Laden?'" Sharpton said. "We need to go after those who went after us."

Historical parallels

The Bush team are gearing up
for re-election in 2004
Encouraged by US victories in Iraq and Afghanistan but increasingly wary of an unpredictable economy, Bush faces a difficult task if he is to succeed where his father failed in 1991.

The historical parallels between the two presidents are striking. Both emerged from a successful war against Iraq to promote an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, and both had to contend with an unsteady economy at home.

The current president will be hoping that he will not follow his father’s path and miss out on re-election for a second time.

Saturday's move allows Bush and his running-mate, Vice President Dick Cheney, to start raising money and forming a 50-state campaign organisation. The Bush campaign intends to raise a record-setting $170 million or more for his campaign.

Officials said a fundraising letter will be mailed to more than one million donors as soon as Monday, and Bush plans to hold the first of many re-election fundraising events in June.

The campaign is already accepting donations at its Web site.

"The American people will decide whether or not I deserve a second term," Bush said as he left the White House for Camp David.

"In the meantime, I am focusing my attention today on helping people find work. And that's where I'm going to be for a while. I want this economy to be robust and strong so that our fellow Americans who are looking for a job can find a job."

Shaky economy

The words mark an effort to ward off the public perception that Bush has disengaged from bread-and-butter issues that took President Bush’s father from victory in the Persian Gulf War of 1991 to defeat in the following year's election campaign.

With economists warning about the possibility of deflation or a potential second recession, Bush will increasingly be forced to turn his attention to the state of the US economy.

Bush approved the campaign announcement after a briefing last week. Aides said it was no coincidence that the papers were filed less than 12 hours after the Senate voted for a cut in the tax on stock dividends that will allow Bush to claim victory for his "jobs and growth plan."

Bush will not accept federal matching funds and so will not be bound by spending limits, his aides said.

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, conducted 27 to 30 April, showed Bush with a 71% approval rating, down from a wartime peak of 77%.

Although Republican officials planned to have the Bush team ready by the end of March, the money-raising effort was delayed by the war in Iraq.