Kerry plans $45 million ad buy

/ Source: The Associated Press

Previewing its fall strategy, John Kerry’s presidential campaign will buy $45 million worth of commercial time in 20 states through Election Day, including spots on cable television and advertising geared toward minorities.

The buy is timed to coincide with the conclusion of President Bush’s nominating convention as the Democrat seeks to curb the Republican incumbent’s momentum. The first spots will be broadcast in just 10 states, which were not disclosed by the campaign.

Stephanie Cutter, spokeswoman for the Kerry campaign, said Tuesday that the purchasing strategy calls for the remaining 10 states to be added between now and Nov. 2. She said the ads will run on cable as well as black and Hispanic media.

The Democratic presidential nominee is targeting the oft-mentioned battleground states of Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington state, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

The campaign will make the ad buy on Wednesday. Because the campaign won’t say how much it will spend in each state, it’s hard to know which states it believes it can win and which states will see smaller amounts of money for other reasons, such as an attempt to make Bush defend his turf.

The early purchase has some political and financial benefits, but it comes with some risk: Bush now has an early roadmap of Kerry’s Electoral College strategy.

Matthew Dowd, the Bush campaign’s chief strategist, criticized Kerry’s campaign for tipping its hand. “It’s laughable that they announce. They have no real message or vision other than process stories,” he said.

Upon accepting his party’s nomination last month, Kerry received $75 million in federal funds for the fall campaign. Bush gets the same amount later this week.

The $45 million ad buy is about half of what Kerry has to spend for the remainder of the campaign. Besides the taxpayers’ money, Kerry and Bush control another $15 million or so in money spent by their respective parties.

Cutter said the campaign is holding back an undisclosed amount for ad buys later in the campaign.

It is unusual for campaigns to tip their hand so early, but the strategy may help Kerry save money and build a sense of momentum as Bush emerges from his nominating convention. The Kerry campaign had already announced an extensive travel schedule for the candidate and his top surrogates.

“There are advantages to it,” said Bill Carrick, who produces ads for Democrats from his California base. “In a pure barter system like media buying, it’s all about supply and demand. It’s going to cost less to buy time now than in a month or two.”

“The disadvantage is the other side knows exactly what you’re doing months out,” Carrick said.

With the advanced buy, Kerry is signaling that he is giving up on Virginia.

His campaign went on the air in the Republican-leaning state in June and was never challenged by Bush on the air, despite Kerry spending about $2.5 million in the state over two months. It was part of the Democrats’ effort to expand the map of battleground states.

In 2000, Bush won Virginia by 8 percentage points over Democrat Al Gore and it has gone to Republicans in presidential elections for decades. At stake in Virginia are 13 electoral votes.

Kerry’s campaign has spent roughly $80 million on ads since March, when he wrapped up the Democratic nomination, compared to more than $120 million by Bush. Outside groups have spent about $80 million on advertising.

In 2000, Bush spent about $60 million of his government check on ads, while Gore committed roughly $52 million.

The Kerry campaign did limited advertising during August, with a few small buys in six states to respond to an independent group’s ads that criticized the nominee’s decorated Vietnam War record. He saved his money to pay for the ads that will fuel his final two-month push.

However, the Democratic National Committee’s independent expenditure office, which can’t legally coordinate with Kerry, filled in for him, spending some $37 million on ads promoting him and criticizing Bush.