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Bush curtailing ads as Kerry ramps up

President Bush is curtailing campaign television commercials in 18 competitive states starting Friday, as Democratic rival John Kerry launches an intensified ad blitz meant to flesh out his biography and proposals.
/ Source: The Associated Press

As President Bush curtails his television commercials in 18 competitive states starting Friday, Democratic rival John Kerry plans to launch an intensified advertising effort next week meant to flesh out his biography and proposals.

“A lot of people don’t really know who I am,” Kerry told party donors Thursday at a breakfast fund-raiser in New York.

Bush campaign officials say their pullback follows the campaign’s long-term strategy to flood airwaves only when voters are paying attention to the presidential race and doesn’t indicate financial problems or ineffective ads.

“We had planned on doing waves of advertising in higher and lower amounts from the very beginning,” depending on “windows of opportunity” when public interest was high, Matthew Dowd, the campaign’s chief strategist, said Wednesday.

Bush to spend $4 million over 10 days
The campaign wouldn’t release details, but ad industry sources familiar with the buy say Bush will spend about $4 million to run moderate levels of ads over 10 days compared to the $6 million to $9 million he had been spending each week to saturate broadcast channels in local media markets.

That means viewers could see anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent fewer Bush ads than they have since the spots started running in early March. His advertising on national cable networks won’t change.

Dowd said the campaign could increase ad spending should the dynamics call for it.

Bush’s ads over the past few weeks have both highlighted his own accomplishments and criticized Kerry’s proposals, but GOP sources say that will change as well, with the campaign running heavier levels of attack ads soon, likely as early as Friday.

With the buy, which runs through April 26, Bush will have spent at least $50 million on TV and radio ads since March 4, far outpacing Kerry, who has spent about $10 million on TV only. However, Democratic-leaning interest groups have aired millions of dollars’ worth of anti-Bush ads as well.

‘We're ... coming right back at them’
Kerry told donors that Bush has not succeeded in using his financial edge to define Kerry for voters. “We’re just going to be coming right back at them,” Kerry said.

The Massachusetts senator has been running roughly $2 million worth of ads each week, and he’s expected to boost that next week when the new commercials start running.

Democrats questioned whether Bush’s campaign is scaling back advertising for another reason: The ads haven’t helped the incumbent Republican gain an edge over Kerry.

Independent polls show the race virtually tied despite the GOP ad blitz. However, Republicans have been able to drive up Kerry’s unfavorable ratings during the last six weeks, which pollsters attribute to both Bush’s ads and public comments by GOP officials claiming that he supports tax increases and has a habit of changing positions on issues.

Kerry’s unfavorable rating went from the low 20s in January to the mid- to high 30s in late March and early April.

Polls show short-lived swing on domestic issues
The Bush campaign was able to narrow Kerry’s advantage on some domestic issues such as jobs and health care in some polls in March, but he regained his advantage in more recent polls.

Jim Jordan, the spokesman for several Democratic groups and Kerry’s former campaign manager, claimed in an e-mail to reporters that Bush’s “multimillion-dollar gamble” to settle the race early with an advertising onslaught had failed.

Dowd argued that internal polls show the ads accomplished their goal of casting Kerry in a negative light early in the race.

“The two things voters know about Kerry today more than anything else is that he’s a flip-flopper and he’s going to raise your taxes,” Dowd said.