updated 7/8/2004 10:52:23 AM ET 2004-07-08T14:52:23

President Bush will launch his first major campaign advertising effort in nearly three weeks on Friday, including his first foray onto North Carolina’s airwaves to defend traditionally GOP turf.

The campaign will roll out new ads and could expand a commercial running on national cable networks to local media markets in the 19 states where Bush will be on the air. The ad features GOP Sen. John McCain praising Bush’s efforts in the war on terror. The rollout will cost $8 million over the next two weeks.

On Thursday, McCain said he would campaign for Bush but would not attack either Democratic candidate John Kerry or his running mate, John Edwards, fellow senators he called his friends. He also called Edwards, D-N.C., “a good man” and said Kerry, D-Mass., had made a good selection.

“We need to reduce the personal attacks aspect and focus more on the issues that face us in the future,” McCain told NBC’s “Today.”

Unlike in previous months, Bush won’t advertise in local media markets in Republican-leaning Virginia and Louisiana, two states the campaign thinks aren’t in play even though Kerry has advertised in both.

The Edwards factor
Meanwhile, Kerry’s campaign is spending $18 million this month in local media markets in 19 states and on national cable networks. A day after Kerry named Edwards as his running mate, the Democrat on Wednesday expanded his advertising to Edwards’ home state, and unveiled a new wave of commercials.

The ads don’t mention Bush, but they attempt to subtly contrast his proposals with Kerry’s, saying Kerry will “fight for the middle class,” while being “tough and smart” on the war on terror.

Bush won North Carolina by 13 points in 2000, but is going on the air there to keep Kerry from making inroads. Democrats hope Edwards can help put his traditionally GOP state — and its 15 electoral votes — in play, along with other Southern venues.

Underscoring the campaign’s effort to win the South, Kerry and Edwards campaigned together in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Wednesday and were holding a rally in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday.

Tens of millions spent so far
Both campaigns largely backed off major campaign ad buys leading up to the Fourth of July, with competing ads in New Mexico the exception. Before that, the campaigns and independent groups spent freely.

Through July, Bush’s campaign will have spent more than $90 million on ads, many of them negative and intended to define Kerry as a flip-flopper and a tax-raiser who is soft on defense.

Since March, Kerry’s campaign has spent about $80 million on ads meant to introduce the four-term Massachusetts senator to the electorate. Democratic-leaning interest groups spent an additional $40 million on ads critical of Bush.

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