President George Bush's senior strategists have vowed to use the month of August to mount derisive and personal attacks on the Democratic candidate John Kerry in what is becoming an increasingly bitter election campaign.
August is traditionally a sleepy and politically quiet month, even in election years, but both sides have said they cannot afford to break off from campaigning, even for the Olympic Games.
With Mr Kerry enjoying a bounce of about 4 per cent from last week's Democratic convention in Boston, Mr Bush's aides said they will campaign on the President's record and his agenda for a second term.
But reports indicate they will also directly attack Mr Kerry, trying to divert attention from what they say was his brief, four-month tour in Vietnam 30 years ago. This will culminate with the Republican convention in New York at the end of the month in which Mr Kerry will be portrayed as a flip-flopping object of humor and derision.
"This gives us a chance to lay out an agenda, to tell people what he wants to do over the next four years," Karl Rove, Mr Bush's senior political adviser, told The New York Times. "We need, as we go into the convention, to put more of an emphasis on our agenda. But we still need to explain the war on terror and we need to offer a contrast with Senator Kerry."
In another sign of the aggressive stance being taken by Republicans, Democrats who signed up to hear Vice-President Dick Cheney speaking at a rally in New Mexico on Saturday were refused tickets unless they signed a pledge to endorse President Bush.
Democrats have quickly hit back at such tactics, suggesting that the decision by the Bush campaign to go negative would backfire with voters.
"The research we've done shows that the Bush campaign has come right up to the edge and probably now crossed the line in being too negative," Geoff Garin, a pollster for the Democratic Party said.
A poll for Newsweek magazine, released on Saturday, showed that the Boston convention had given Mr Kerry a bounce of four points, placing him on 49 per cent, with Mr Bush at 42 per cent and the independent candidate, Ralph Nader, on 3 per cent.
Appearing yesterday on US television, Mr Kerry said he was not watching the polls; he said that last year's numbers at one point showed his bid for the Democratic nomination was floundering.
On Fox News Sunday, with his running-mate, John Edwards, he said: "Polls are not what's important. What's important is what we're going to do for America. I don't read polls. I really don't. They are going to go up and down. They're going to change."
But there is no doubt that Mr Kerry's strategists will have seized on the bounce, as both parties continue campaigning through the American heartlands this month, knowing the Republicans will also likely get a boost from their convention in a matter of weeks.
In other years, conventions have provided candidates with double-digit boosts, but, given the polarized nature of the electorate and the small number of undecided voters, few observers were expecting anything of that scale.
Yesterday Mr Kerry was continuing his way through some of the crucial swing states that will likely determine the outcome of November's election, stopping in Springfield, Ohio where he repeated his wish to rebuild relations with other countries to help share the burden in Iraq.
"If we demonstrate an America that has a foreign policy that is smarter, more engaged and more respectful of the world, we're going to bring people to our side," Mr Kerry said.
"We're not only not going to put additional troops there; that's the way to bring our troops home."
© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd