Washington President Bush filed papers Friday that formally launch his campaign for re-election, an effort that effectively began the day he declared victory in Iraq from the deck of a home-bound aircraft carrier.
The filing of papers with the Federal Election Commission allows the president to raise money for his campaign, hire a staff and rent headquarters. As previously announced, the papers say Vice President Dick Cheney again will stand as Bush's running mate.
The long road to Election Day 2004 begins with the president enjoying consistently high public approval ratings based on his leadership in the war on terrorism, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also comes with the near certainty that he will not face a primary challenge, unlike George H.W. Bush, his father, whose ill-fated re-election campaign in 1992 was weakened by a primary challenge from conservative Pat Buchanan.
But Bush and Cheney may remain vulnerable nonetheless, as polls show the public much less approving of Bush's management of the economy, health care, the environment and other domestic concerns.
And the president remains a divisive political figure, a trend perhaps amplified by his aggressive leadership at home and abroad, particularly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He had been widely expected to govern from the center, because of his razor-thin victory margin in the 2000 election.
"The American people will decide whether or not I deserve a second term," Bush said Friday before leaving the White House for the Camp David presidential retreat.
So far, nine Democratic challengers are seeking their party's nomination, hoping to repeat Bill Clinton's success against the president's father. The elder Bush also entered a re-election bid with high poll numbers after the first Persian Gulf War, but he was upset by Clinton, who played to public concerns that the president was out of touch with an ailing economy.