The presidential campaign of Texas Gov. George W. Bush has produced a series of mock ads attacking him and designed to look as if they were produced by rival Steve Forbes. The ads were shown to focus groups to determine where and how Bush might be vulnerable.

The attack ads--on issues such as taxes, education and spending--did not seem to damage the Republican front-runner when coupled with a positive ad response from the candidate, according to Bush campaign officials. Bush aides have said privately that he could spend upward of $20 million on ads through the early part of March. Forbes is the only candidate with the money to pose a real campaign advertising threat.

The exercise "strongly affirms and confirms the power of the governor's message: That his positive message resonates powerfully. That his support is high, even after attacked," a Bush aide said.

The Forbes campaign, which was irate earlier this month over a Washington Post story that said the Bush people had downgraded Forbes as a threat, deduced quite another message.

"I think it's a further indication of how the race is boiling down to a Bush-Forbes race," Forbes spokesman Greg Mueller said of the focus group strategy. "In many ways, we're not only becoming the conservative challenger to Governor Bush but the main challenger nationwide. Bush's people see us as the major threat."

McCain Nets $63,400 in 4 Days

As John McCain the senator leads the charge for campaign finance reform this week, John McCain the presidential candidate is utilizing all the tools of modern campaign buck-raking to stay at least modestly competitive with George W. Bush.

McCain campaign aides last week were touting their best Internet haul ever--$63,400 in four days--after an e-mail imploring donors to help McCain "show momentum" with a solid third quarter, which ended Sept. 30.

The message included an appeal from McCain for "emergency contributions" and a link where Net surfers can punch in credit card numbers.

Spokesman Todd Harris attributed the enthusiastic e-response to McCain's recent tour for his best-selling book: "It was a classic example of striking while the iron is hot."

Dole Picks a Date to Make It Official

Elizabeth Dole, who has been running unofficially for president since early this year, announced yesterday that she will make her campaign official on Nov. 7. "It's exactly one year before the first presidential election of the new millennium, and our selection of that date reflects my sense that we will make history," she said in a statement.

Dole will kick off her announcement swing in Des Moines, then heads to Manchester, N.H., Columbia, S.C., and her home town, Salisbury, N.C.

Staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.