The Republican Party’s new presidential campaign ad hopes to seize an issue it feels President Bush should own: national security. NBC’s Ron Allen reports.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com

The political ad war on Iowa television airwaves will reach a crescendo this weekend. Earlier this week, Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean launched an air assault on his rival, Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt for voting to support $87 billion in funds to sustain the Iraq operation. On Saturday, Gephardt will open fire on Iowa stations with a counter-blast, accusing Dean of contradicting himself on the $87 billion. Then on Sunday the Republican National Committee will begin its own air barrage with a spot criticizing unidentified Democrats for opposing President Bush’s Iraq policy.

The Republican ad is timed to coincide with a debate here in Des Moines on Monday that will be broadcast on MSNBC.

The ad uses footage of Bush’s State of the Union address in which he said, “It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.”

As Bush speaks, the ad flashes text on the screen that says, “Some are now attacking the president for attacking the terrorists. Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others.” The ad urges viewers to call members of Congress and “tell them to support the president’s policy of pre-emptive self-defense.”

Democrats reacted with disdain to the ad.

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who called for Saddam Hussein’s ouster well before Bush became president, issued a statement saying the ad was “a cynical attempt to rescue the president’s sinking poll numbers by using fear and politicizing our national security.”

Dean campaign manger Joe Trippi told supporters in an e-mail that the GOP was guilty of “fear-mongering.” Trippi urged them to express their outrage by sending contributions to the Dean campaign. He set a goal of $360,000 by Tuesday at midnight.

Meanwhile, Dean himself is under fire from Gephardt, his chief rival in the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses.

On Saturday, Gephardt begins airing a new television ad that says, “Howard Dean’s attacking Dick Gephardt for a position Dean took himself.”

The ad included an excerpt from a Sept. 25 debate aired on CNBC in which NBC anchorman Brian Williams asked Dean, “Is that an up or down, yes or no, on the $87 billion per se?”

Dean replied, “On the 87 billion dollars for Iraq? We have no choice, but it has to be financed by getting rid of all the president’s tax cuts.”

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The ad also has footage of Dean from an Oct. 19 Iowa television appearance in which he said, “I don’t think this Iraq disagreement frankly rises to the level of a big campaign issue and I don’t, I don’t intend to make whether you voted for it or against the supplemental appropriation a campaign issue.”

Gephardt says in the ad, “leadership is about making tough decisions and sticking with them.”

Asked about Dean’s consistency on the question of the $87 billion appropriations, Dean spokesman Jay Carson told MSNBC.com Wednesday, “He said from the beginning that he supports the troops and that we have to support the troops. But the choice on this $87 billion is a false choice. Sending billions of dollars to Halliburton and then taking away soldiers’ health care when they get home is not supporting the troops. … The Bush administration has been clever the whole time at setting up a false choice.”

Democrats have criticized the Bush administration for awarding Halliburton no-bid contracts to do reconstruction of infrastructure in Iraq. Vice President Dick Cheney is the former chairman of Halliburton.

Among the Democratic presidential contenders, Gephardt and Lieberman voted for $87 billion in funding while North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich voted against it.

When reporters first questioned Dean about the pending vote on the $87 billion in early September, he avoided answering.

“I’m not in Congress,” he told reporters on Sept. 8. “That’s not a decision that I make. … I’ll tell you what I’m going to do but I’m not going to tell you how I face an issue that is not of my making. This was created by Congress because they didn’t stand up to the president when they should have.”

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