updated 10/22/2004 3:26:59 PM ET 2004-10-22T19:26:59

President Bush’s campaign suggests the country would be vulnerable to terrorists under a John Kerry presidency in a TV ad that shows prowling wolves in a forest and says “weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm.”

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Countering, the Democratic Party released a commercial that features a soaring eagle and an ostrich with its head in the sand. The ad asks: “Given the choice, in these challenging times, shouldn’t we be the eagle again?”

Kerry running mate John Edwards, in Boynton Beach, Fla., said Bush had “stooped so low” that he was “continuing to try to scare America in his speeches and ads in a despicable and contemptible way.”

Reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s Soviet “Bear” ad that was credited with helping frame the 1984 race, Bush’s commercial shows a dense forest from above and then sunlight-speckled trees from inside. Shadows move through the brush before animals are seen in the forest. Wolves rest on a hill, then stir and move forward.

“In an increasingly dangerous world, even after the first terrorist attack on America, John Kerry and the liberals in Congress voted to slash America’s intelligence budget by $6 billion,” an ominous voice says in the ad. “Cuts so deep they would have weakened America’s defenses. And weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm.”

BUSH VS. KERRY: Comparing the candidates from issue-to-issue.It implies that terrorists would take advantage of a Kerry presidency and the country could face another attack, which Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have suggested on the campaign trail. The vice president said last month the country was likely to be “hit again” if voters made the “wrong choice” in November.

The ad also seeks to make the case that Bush’s opponent doesn’t understand the threat terrorists pose to the United States and it attempts to undermine Kerry’s credibility by portraying him as someone who shouldn’t be trusted with keeping the country safe.

“It’s certainly playing to fear,” said Darrell West, a Brown University political scientist who studies campaign advertising. “It builds logically on other things they’ve been saying for months.”

The ad, Bush aides say, was created in the spring and was found to be highly effective in focus groups, particularly among women and undecided voters.

Voters in 14 states will see the ad, which also will run on national cable, starting Friday. Bush’s campaign and the Republican National Committee are spending roughly $15 million on TV commercials this week, and GOP officials say that sum is likely to be higher next week, the last one before Nov. 2.

The Democratic National Committee, too, has had its ad prepared for months. Operating separately from Kerry’s campaign, the party’s independent expenditure office is spending $20 million combined this week and next on ads. Officials say the new ad will run at heavy levels starting early next week on national cable networks and in battleground states in rotation with other spots.

The ad, with classical music playing, says: “The eagle soars high above the Earth. The ostrich buries its head in the sand. The eagle can see everything for miles around. The ostrich? Can’t see at all. The eagle knows when it’s time to change course. The ostrich stands in one place.”

The eagle is meant to symbolize Kerry, the ostrich, Bush.

Polls show the two in a tight race, and both campaigns are focusing on national security to try to gain ground. Bush is trying to persuade voters to stay the course in wartime, arguing change would put the country at risk. Kerry is seeking to make the case for change by claiming Bush has failed in the war on terror and in Iraq.

Bush’s ad says Kerry proposed $6 billion in cuts to the intelligence budget after the first World Trade Center attack in 1993. Like other Senate Republicans and Democrats, Kerry sought reductions in intelligence spending after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. He sponsored an amendment in 1994 as part of a plan aimed at reducing huge federal deficits.

The GOP ad is modeled after one that was widely credited with framing Reagan’s 1984 re-election race and helping the incumbent Republican bury Democratic challenger Walter Mondale.

Although that 30-second ad never mentioned Mondale, Communism or the Cold War, it used a menacing grizzly bear shuffling through a forest to represent the Soviet Union and asked: “Is it smart to be as strong as the bear — if there is a bear?”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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