Seeking to regain his footing in the Republican presidential race, George W. Bush accused Sen. John McCain on Friday of running a campaign of "Washington double talk" by attacking special interests while courting their support.
It is "important for the people to know that my friend is raising money from people who have business in front of his committee" in the Senate, Bush said as he campaigned in advance of South Carolina's Feb. 19 primary.
Aides said Bush's comments amounted to a preview of a retooled, sharper rhetorical style crafted in the wake of a poor second-place showing in the New Hampshire primary.
As part of that tactical change, Bush's campaign is ready to air a new commercial in South Carolina that accuses McCain of distorting Bush's tax plan. "John McCain's ad about Gov. Bush isn't true and McCain knows it," says the commercial, Bush's first to refer to the Arizona senator by name.
McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said he expected attacks from members of the party establishment who feel threatened by his efforts to reduce the influence of lobbyists in the capital.
Bush has set campaign fundraising records and is the overwhelming favorite among GOP officials, collecting endorsements from numerous senators and governors. McCain has said that support makes Bush the insiders' candidate.
Bush, the Republicans' nationwide front-runner for months, gained only 30 percent of the vote in New Hampshire compared with 48 for McCain. His showing has sobered his supporters, many of whom fear a victory by McCain in South Carolina _ the next key battleground _ could portend serious trouble for the Texas governor.
Several polls taken since the New Hampshire vote have indicated Bush's once-substantial lead in South Carolina has disappeared. In the latest, released Friday by the American Research Group, 45 percent of likely Republican primary voters in the state said they would vote for McCain and 42 percent said Bush. That was within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
McCain has made campaign finance reform a centerpiece of his campaign, and has vowed to break the grip of special interests.
Bush said there is nothing illegal about McCain's efforts to attract support from lobbyists and special interests, but he added, "I just want to make sure the facts are laid bare so people can make a true judgment in this race."
He noted that in addition to seeking contributions from industry officials, McCain has flown on corporate jets during his campaign, reimbursing for first-class fare.
"One of the things that I worry about is what we call Washington double talk, to say one thing and actually do another," Bush said.