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Fresh Crop of Anti-Bush Spots Aired

Strategy: Ads play to Gore's perceived strengths. GOP says vice president's tack 'lacks a positive message' and will hurt him.


PHILADELPHIA — While the George W. Bush coronation unfolds in a scripted-to-the-minute infotainment event, Democratic strategists are rolling out a miniseries of their own: a daily release of fresh advertisements criticizing the Texas governor's record and his running mate.

Each day since Sunday, the party has unfurled a new 15- or 30-second commercial blasting Bush on issues that Democrats believe are Vice President Al Gore's strengths: the environment and health care.

Wednesday's spot, which will rotate with the others among 17 competitive states where the Republican National Committee has aired commercials, says the Texas governor "protects polluters instead of our families." Also Wednesday, an independent monitoring service captured the Democrats' sixth new ad of the week, a 15-second spot noting that Bush had cut taxes for oil companies in Texas.

Democrats are spending an estimated $3.5 million on air time for the ads this week, about 50% more than the party had spent per week since June, but far less than it likely will pour into ad blitzes in the fall. Perhaps even more than swaying voters, the timing is meant to snatch some of the media spotlight from the GOP convention.

Nice Guys Do Finish Last

Though the two parties once paid each other the courtesy of staying off the air during the other's convention, the Democrats are unapologetic about airing the ads this week. Democrats also ran spots against Bush's father during the 1992 Republican convention.

But as polls show Gore trailing Bush and facing limited access to the airwaves this fall because of the Olympic Games in Sydney, Democrats are eager to make their case against Bush as he tries to convey an inclusive image.

Bush aides were quick to use the ads' release as a chance to paint Gore as an attack dog.

Gore "lacks a positive message," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said. The commercials will hurt the vice president "by reminding people what they like least about Al Gore's brand of politics," he added.

In some ways, the Bush camp's criticism of the Democratic ads recalls a similar tack during the South Carolina primary in February. After Bush's then-rival Sen. John McCain of Arizona aired an ad comparing the Texas governor with President Clinton, Bush accused McCain of unfairly questioning his integrity. Under pressure, McCain yanked his negative ads. Bush continued his airwave assault, and McCain lost.

"There's always some foolhardy soul who tries to figure out whether you can [win] without being tough," said Democratic media consultant Bill Carrick, who is not affiliated with the Gore campaign. "It never turns out to be true."

For their part, Democratic leaders say they're not afraid of the Bush camp's portrayals of Gore as a candidate who attacks out of desperation.

"This is the family of Willie Horton," Democratic National Convention Chairman Joe Andrew said, referring to the furloughed Massachusetts prison inmate who became the subject of a controversial ad against Michael S. Dukakis, who was defeated by Bush's father in 1988. "I don't think they're going to get any traction on that."

Countering GOP's Projected Image

As the Democrats seek to divert attention from the GOP convention this week, they are receiving a bit of aid from a handful of independent organizations backing Gore. The Sierra Club and Handgun Control each made small air time buys to run their commercials in Philadelphia over the last week. Planned Parenthood of America is running a spot on cable channels across the country.

Each of the ads is designed in part to counter images of the GOP as a united populist movement. The Sierra Club spot features Republican women from Houston criticizing Bush's record on air quality. Planned Parenthood's commercial attacks Bush's opposition to abortion. And Handgun Control is reviving a spot it first aired in May, featuring video of a National Rifle Assn. chief telling supporters the organization will be able to work out of the White House if Bush is elected.

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