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Team Forms New Plan for New Fight

Former President George H.W. Bush endorses Sen. John McCain for president. McCain says Bush's endorsement will help unite the Republican Party. Video by AP

"They will promise a new approach to governing but offer only the policies of a political orthodoxy that insists the solution to government's failures is to simply make it bigger," McCain told his supporters that night.

Black said McCain is "going to shift to talking about issues and contrasts with the Democrats on big issues." Chief among those contrasts, he said, will be an attempt to portray Obama as too inexperienced to take the reins of the country, a line of attack that Clinton has used against her chief Democratic rival with only mixed success.

Black said McCain will have a better chance of making that case about Obama because Clinton "doesn't have experience, either." He added: "People didn't see a big difference, especially on national security."

McCain's changing rhetoric is an attempt to take the offensive while Obama and Clinton continue fighting it out. He is also being forced to alter his message to respond to attacks from Democratic proxies.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean took aim at McCain on Thursday: "Just like President Bush, McCain's strategy is a war without end. The choice in this election couldn't be more clear: Elect John McCain and get 100 years in Iraq, or elect a Democrat to bring our troops home."

Since the Super Tuesday voting on Feb. 5, the DNC has issued more than a dozen attacks on McCain, most focused on his support for the Iraq war. This week, it began e-mailing daily "McCain Myth Busters" to reporters.

McCain has dropped all references to Huckabee from his speeches. But Huckabee's refusal to concede is postponing some of the steps McCain would normally take, including a merging of his campaign apparatus with the Republican National Committee. Officials at the RNC said they are required to remain neutral as long as there is an active primary campaign. Research they collect on Democrats, for example, is being delivered to both Huckabee and McCain, they said.

"The kind of synchronizing and meshing of organizations doesn't take place until the candidate meets the threshold," an RNC official said. "We are partners, brothers in an endeavor . . . to make sure the public understands the differences between our candidate and the Democratic candidate."

McCain aides said they expect that the RNC will eventually take over much of the voter-registration, voter-identification and get-out-the-vote operations for the campaign. It will also bolster McCain's opposition research.

But McCain's people will be in charge, aides and others said.

"Make no mistake about it, this will not be a blending of universes," said one Republican strategist not affiliated with McCain's campaign. "It's a wholesale takeover by McCain. That is the prerogative of every nominee."

Black, the McCain adviser, said: "At some point, it will become appropriate for us to begin talking to them. We won't do that as long as we have a serious competitor."

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