Coming exactly one week before New Hampshire's presidential primary and the night after Iowa's caucuses, the speech has given Democratic presidential candidates an opportunity to discuss how they would take on a popular president whose campaign will highlight the economic recovery and his leadership in fighting terrorism - themes prominent in the address.

"The State of the Union may look rosy from the White House balcony or the suites of George Bush's wealthiest donors," said Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean. "But hardworking Americans will see through this president's effort to wrap his radical agenda with a compassionate ribbon."

Retired General Wesley Clark said Bush's promises were "just smoke and mirrors" to hide that he "has helped those who have most, hurt those who have least, and ignored everyone in between."

Clark also said Bush had created his own "axis of evil" two  years after coining the phrase in a previous State of the Union address to describe countries that were deemed a threat to the United States.

"It's an axis of fiscal policies that threaten our future… foreign polices that threaten our security… and domestic policies that put families dead last," the retired four-star general declared in a statement.

Deficits and job loss

Democrats pointed to deficits approaching $500 billion and a loss of 2.3 million jobs since he took office. They also criticised Bush's failure to build a broad international coalition in Iraq.

Kerry said Bush did not understand
concerns of ordinary Americans

Fresh from his victory on Monday in Iowa, Senator John Kerry said Bush "still doesn't understand what's happening in living rooms across this country." He said Bush "talked about how he wants to help people find jobs, but for three years he stood by while we lost more jobs than at any time since the Great Depression."
 
In the official Democratic response to Bush's speech, the top two Democrats in Congress said the president was not doing enough to protect America from terrorists or to improve the economy. Excerpts of the response were released in advance.
 
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California criticised Bush's "go-it-alone foreign policy that leaves us isolated abroad and that steals the resources we need for education and health care here at home." 

Cost of Iraq occupation

Pelosi attacked the human and financial cost of last year's Iraq invasion in the party's official reply to the president's State of the Union policy speech.

Pelosi said US taxpayers bear
cost of occupation of Iraq

She said Bush "has pursued a go-it-alone foreign policy that leaves us isolated abroad and that steals the resources we need for education and health care here at home."

"The president led us into the Iraq war on the basis of unproven assertions without evidence; he embraced a radical doctrine of pre-emptive war unprecedented in our history; and he failed to build a true international coalition."
 
"Therefore, American taxpayers are bearing almost all the cost - a colossal 120 billion dollars and rising. More importantly, American troops are enduring almost all the casualties - tragically, 500 killed and thousands more wounded."

No-bid contracts

Pelosi said that "as a nation, we must show our greatness, not just our strength. America must be a light to the world, not just a missile."
 
"Instead of alienating our allies, let us work with them and international institutions so that together we can prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and keep them out of the hands of terrorists," Pelosi stressed.

"Instead of billions of dollars in no-bid contracts for politically-connected firms such as Halliburton, and an insistence on American dominance in Iraq, let us share the burden and responsibility with others"


Nancy Pelosi, 
House Democratic Leader

Adding that "instead of billions of dollars in no-bid contracts for politically-connected firms such as Halliburton, and an insistence on American dominance in Iraq, let us share the burden and responsibility with others."
 
Pelosi said the administration was failing to meet the challenge of international terrorism. She called for all containers entering the United States to be inspected. 

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle said, "Instead of borrowing even more money to give more tax breaks to companies so that they can export even more jobs, we propose tax cuts and policies that will strengthen our manufacturing sector and create good jobs at good wages here at home."