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CAMPAIGN 2000

Bush Ads to Ride California Airwaves

Message: GOP officials say they will run the two commercials until the general election. Democrats say that Gore has the state sewn up, and they have no plans to air spots.

September 02, 2000|JEFF LEEDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Republican Party officials plan to return to California's airwaves next week with a pair of television commercials promoting George W. Bush's stances on education and Social Security.

Sensitive to perceptions that the Texas governor is abandoning the vote-rich state, which is tilting strongly Democratic, party officials vowed to buy air time in the state every week until the general election.

"Republicans are very, very serious about California," said state Sen. Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga), the finance chairman of the California Republican Party. "Both Democrats and Republicans are aware that there are 54 electoral votes in this state."

Party officials are planning to air two 30-second spots that have already run across a 17-state battlefield where the two major parties have been dueling on the airwaves since June. It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

Democrats Have Not Invested in Ads

Brulte said the state party, which routinely receives funds from the national party, will initially spend about $500,000 per week and run the ads in each of the state's 12 media markets, starting Thursday.

A GOP media consultant not affiliated with the Bush campaign estimated that sum would only buy about 250 "gross-ratings points" in each market, enough for the average viewer to see an ad twice. That's far less than the amount political strategists say is needed for the ad's message to sink in.

Even so, Brulte called it "a very significant buy, and it's more than the other team has put up in any of the markets."

Indeed, the Democrats haven't spent a dime on California air time, saying the state is a lock for Vice President Al Gore. The GOP already spent an estimated $850,000 airing the education spot in the Central Valley and along the Central Coast, both less expensive media markets rich in swing voters.

Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, said the size of the media buy shows it is "nothing more than political posturing."

In one of the ads, titled "Expect More," Bush appears on screen in a button-down shirt, saying, "If we really want to make sure no child gets left behind in America, we need the courage to raise standards in our schools." An announcer says that "test scores soared" after Bush raised standards as governor.

But Democrats says the scores could be skewed because in the last year Texas conducted its statewide test, only 48% of its special-education students took it, down from 62% the year before. Democrats also note that since 1995 the average Texas score dropped three points, while the national average rose nine points.

The second ad, "This Generation," highlights Bush's plan to reform Social Security. "Government has made a commitment, and you have made your plans," Bush says. "These promises will be honored." An announcer says that, under Bush's plan, younger workers will be able to invest a portion of their payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts. Democrats say the plan would result in losses for people who invest poorly.

Some Republican strategists had been planning to hold off on buying air time in California until six weeks or so before the election, saving their money for a blitz as swing voters are making up their mind.

Because many swing voters don't decide on a candidate until the final month of the campaign, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, "historically, this [ad buy] would be fairly early."

Media Buy Lends Support to GOP

But the media buy is also intended to lift support for Republicans in key state and congressional races who could be in jeopardy if Bush didn't pour resources into the state.

Brulte said Bush will continue to make appearances in California to lend support to candidates in competitive races such as Glendale, where Rep. James E. Rogan is fighting to retain his seat and Republican Paul Zee is seeking to win a seat in the state Senate.

"We believe that we are ideally positioned at this point in the campaign," Brulte said. "We are clearly within striking distance."

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