Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie attacked Democrats on Thursday for planning what he called "the dirtiest campaign in modern presidential politics."
Arriving in Nevada to greet supporters in Las Vegas and give a dinner speech in Reno, Gillespie went on the offensive, criticizing Democrats for questioning President Bush's military service.
"Their patently false allegations and patently false charges are just one indication of the type of campaign we can expect from them in the coming 10 months," Gillespie said in the keynote address to a crowd of 250 at the Washoe County Lincoln Day Dinner at a hotel-casino.
In the speech, Gillespie questioned Sen. John Kerry's commitment to national security while offering brief praise for the Massachusetts Democrat's military record in Vietnam.
"John Kerry's record of service in our military in Vietnam was honorable and we commend him for it. But his long record in the U.S. Senate is one of advocating policies that would weaken our national security," Gillespie said.
In 1993, Kerry tried to cut Defense Department programs and two years later voted to cut funding to the FBI by $80 million, said Gillespie.
Gillespie called Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe the "John Wilkes Booth of presidential character assassination" for accusing Bush of skirting his duties with the National Guard.
Gillespie also referenced an anonymous quote from a Kerry campaign consultant, who told The New York Times earlier this month that if Republicans go on the attack, "Everything is on the table. Everything."
"We know that `everything' means making slanderous charges against the president of the United States, funneling money to shadow organizations, engaging in voter suppression tactics and spreading lies on the Internet," Gillespie said.
A spokesman for Kerry's campaign dismissed Gillespie's comments as "the right-wing smear machine at it again."
"They don't like the way the campaign is going for them, so they are resorting to smear and attack politics," said Kerry campaign spokesman Chad Clanton. "It's the kind of stuff the American people are sick and tired of."
The Democratic National Committee had an equally strong response.
"Ed Gillespie's hyperventilating," DNC press secretary Tony Welch said.
The controversy over Bush's military records is growing despite administration and Republican Party efforts, he said.
"Ed has every right to be worked up, but not with the Democrats or the public. It is with the facts. The records, including even his dental records, show gaps in President Bush's story," Welch said.
The White House released dental records Wednesday to support Bush's account of his Air National Guard service in Alabama. But several members of his unit have said they don't remember ever seeing Bush at their Montgomery base.
"It appears that it's the president's large and growing credibility problem that's getting Ed so worked up," Welch said.
During Gillespie's Las Vegas appearance, he told supporters that Nevada will be critical as a battleground state in the presidential election.
"Nevada's five electoral college votes were the difference between President Bush being president today or not being president today," Gillespie said. "And I suspect it could be the same in 2004."
He urged the group to work hard to fulfill the party's goal of registering 3 million new members during the 2004 campaign. Party officials hope to add some 57,000 Republicans in Nevada.
Gillespie's trip comes two days before Nevada's Democrats hold caucus meetings to survey their preferences for a presidential nominee.
"Nevada is ground zero in the battle for presidential re-election," he repeated in Reno, saying President Bush beat Democrat Al Gore in 2000 in Nevada by an average of just 18 votes per precinct.
He said Bush's support for a nuclear waste repository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain was just one issue in the campaign and would not sway the election.
Outside the speech in Reno, six protesters held signs that read "Bush is no patriot" and "Bush lies" before a casino security guard demanded they leave.
Gillespie told reporters before the speech he does not believe Kerry has wrapped up the Democratic nomination.
"I wouldn't say it is wide open like I was saying two weeks ago, but it is not settled yet either," he said.
Kerry, who has won 10 of the 12 states contested so far, has scheduled a rally Friday in Las Vegas. No other candidates planned to campaign in the state.