IMAGE: Bush speaks aboard USS Abraham Lincoln last May
J. Scott Applewhite  /  AP file
The ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner that adorned the USS Abraham Lincoln as Bush spoke May 1 has become a source of controversy for the administration.
updated 4/16/2004 7:27:17 PM ET 2004-04-16T23:27:17

President Bush’s top political adviser said this week that he regretted the use of a “Mission Accomplished” banner as a backdrop for the president’s landing on an aircraft carrier last May to mark the end of major combat operations in Iraq.

“I wish the banner was not up there,” White House political strategist Karl Rove said Thursday at an editorial board meeting with The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio. “I’ll acknowledge the fact that it has become one of those convenient symbols.”

Rove echoed Bush’s contention that the phrase referred to the carrier crew’s completing their 10-month mission, not the military’s completing its mission in Iraq.

The banner, which has been a source of controversy for the Bush administration, has been mocked many times over the failed search for weapons of mass destruction and the continuing violence in Iraq.

Bush said in October that the White House had nothing to do with the banner; a spokesman later clarified that the ship’s crew asked for the sign and that the White House staff had it made by a private vendor. It was not clear who paid for the sign.

Rove also predicted that “we’re going to win Ohio comfortably” in the race against Bush’s Democratic rival, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

The Bush campaign is “building the greatest grass-roots apparatus that Ohio has ever seen,” Rove said. The state’s 20 electoral votes could determine the election.

“I don’t mean that it’s going to be close,” Rove said. “What I mean is, it’s going to be where everybody is going to be paying a lot of time and attention. I think we’re going to win Ohio comfortably, but I do think that Democrats are going to contest it strongly.”

Kerry fires back
Kathy Roeder, a spokeswoman for the Kerry campaign, said it was “stunning” that Rove felt so confident that he could win Ohio, a state that has millions of people without health care.

“Just because he’s so comfortable doesn’t mean everybody else is in Ohio,” she said.

Kerry, campaigning at an outdoor rally on the University of Pittsburgh campus, lashed out Friday at what he called the White House’s “twisted sense of ethics and morality” and accused Republicans of distorting his record and attacking his patriotism.

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Kerry was firing back at Republicans who charge that he is weak on defense for voting against some weapons systems and an $87 billion bill to pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, pointed out that Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney did not serve in the military.

“I’m tired of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney and a bunch of people who went out of their way to avoid their chance to serve when they had the chance,” Kerry said. “I’m not going to listen to them talk to me about patriotism.”

“I’ve seen how these people in the White House today, in their twisted sense of ethics and morality, don’t think twice about challenging John McCain and what happened to him as a prisoner of war,” he said in reference to attacks by Bush in 2000 on McCain, the senator from Arizona who was his Republican primary rival.

Steve Schmidt, a Bush campaign spokesman, said Kerry’s judgment in his voting record on defense and security was in question, not his patriotism.

“The fundamental difference in this election will be between President Bush’s steady leadership in the war on terror and John Kerry’s consistent political opportunism on the war on terror,” Schmidt said.

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