Former Bush aide sees 'a very tough campaign'

by Bill Miller

The Fort Worth Star Telegram

DALLAS _ The John Kerry juggernaut in the Democratic primaries has convinced President Bush that the Massachusetts senator is his opponent in the 2004 election, and he expects a tough fight, a top supporter said Wednesday.

"We're really in day one of the general election campaign," former adviser Karen Hughes said Wednesday. "I expect the president will conduct himself with dignity and honor. But this will be a very tough campaign.

"I expect because the country is so divided, that this will be a close, divided election."

Hughes discussed the campaign during a luncheon hosted by the National Center of Policy Analysis at the Wyndham Anatole Hotel. She recalled the close race in the 2000 election; the president, she said, expects to be similarly challenged this year.

"I remember very well those 36 days after election day," she said of the 2000 election, when the Florida outcome had to be settled in the Supreme Court. "I hope not to have to go through that again."

But, she added, "All elections come down to a choice. On fundamental issues that are important to American families, the most fundamental are freedom and security.

"I think voters will ultimately decide that President Bush has the resolve, the strength and the steadiness and the determination to lead us in a war against terror."

Hughes said Bush will distinguish himself from Kerry by noting his administration's attempts to bring democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq . He'll also point out that his tax cuts have helped pull the country out of an economic recession.

Hughes's new book, Ten Minutes from Normal , describes her service to Bush, beginning while he was governor of Texas and through the first 18 months of his presidency. It also describes why she chose to return to Texas in order to spend more time with her family.

Hughes told reporters that she would travel the nation for about a month to promote the book. After that, she plans to participate in the campaign.

"I'm not in an official role yet," she said. "I promised when I left the White House that I would travel with [Bush] for the last several months of the campaign, so I expect I'll be a consultant.

"Right now I'm Karen Hughes: author and speaker, Texas resident."