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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Bush Targets Kerry in TV Attack Ad

March 12, 2004|Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush unleashed his first paid television attack Thursday against his presumed Democratic foe, John F. Kerry, with an advertisement that called the Massachusetts senator "wrong on taxes, wrong on defense," and featured footage suggestive of lurking terrorists.

The ad, which includes pictures of the president and a legally required statement in his own voice vouching for its content, asserts that Kerry would seek to raise taxes by at least $900 billion.

It also accuses Kerry of advocating a policy that requires the U.S. to seek permission from the United Nations before taking action to defend itself -- an allusion to the debate over the war in Iraq. And it claims that Kerry, if elected, would take steps to weaken anti-terrorism laws.

Images in the ad include a person wearing a gas mask; grainy footage of a man running, filmed from overhead, like a fugitive; and another man turning his eyes slowly to face the camera as a narrator talks about Kerry's agenda on terrorism.

The ad was to be broadcast in 18 closely contested states, such as Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio, Bush-Cheney campaign officials said.

The campaign released another 30-second TV ad Thursday in which Bush promoted his vision for the economy and healthcare, and warns -- without naming Kerry -- about the "dangerous illusions that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat."

The anti-Kerry ad may represent the opening of a new, rough phase of the campaign, with nearly eight months until the election.

The Republican National Committee and the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign have used e-mail and other communication methods -- including presidential speeches -- to criticize the senator, in an effort to plant doubts about him in the minds of voters.

Television advertising was the next step.

Kerry, in reply to the attack, told reporters that Bush was ignoring issues such as education, healthcare and jobs.

"They can't talk about those things, because George Bush doesn't have a record to run on; he has a record to run away from," Kerry said in a news conference at the Capitol.

Prominent Democratic-allied groups outside the formal party structure and the Kerry campaign have begun running anti-Bush TV ads in battleground states. The new Democratic standard-bearer in recent days has also increased his rhetoric.

On Wednesday, Kerry called Republican critics "the most crooked

The development in the ad wars came as the Democrat was meeting with congressional allies and with Sen. John Edwards, a former rival for the nomination. Aides gave no details. The North Carolina senator is expected to campaign with Kerry in the coming weeks, according to a source familiar with the process.

While TV attack ads are commonplace in politics, the new Bush ad against Kerry made history: It was the first time an incumbent president was required to include a personal statement of approval in a commercial used to criticize an opponent.

Bush did so with a voice-over, and included pictures of himself at work in the White House, to meet the "Stand by Your Ad" requirement of the McCain-Feingold campaign law.

Some analysts had suggested that the disclosure requirement might make the president's campaign hesitant to attack Kerry directly on TV because it would put Bush into the political fray early in the campaign. But campaign officials said Thursday they were confident the ad would work.

The ad drew immediate criticism. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, called on Bush to withdraw the ad because it illustrated the section on terrorism with a picture of an olive-skinned man with bushy eyebrows.

"If they wanted to put Osama bin Laden up there that's fine, but using just a face stereotypes," Zogby told Associated Press.

Bush-Cheney officials defended the ad as being on solid factual ground. The Kerry campaign said it was riddled with inaccuracies.

On taxes, Kerry has never specifically called for a $900-billion tax increase. But the Bush campaign argues that because Kerry has vowed to reduce the deficit while spending about $900 billion over 10 years on healthcare, he must raise taxes that much to pay for it.

Democrats responded that would be like arguing Bush was planning massive tax increases because he promised to reduce the deficit while implementing a new prescription drug plan under Medicare and increasing defense spending.

Kerry routinely calls for rolling back the Bush cuts in tax rates for the wealthiest Americans -- those earning more than $200,000 a year. Repealing those reductions -- along with related changes Bush pushed through that benefited high-end earners -- could net the government about $400 billion over 10 years, estimates Peter Orszag, a tax policy expert at the Brookings Institution.

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