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The Race to the White House

Ad Watch

President Bush

March 31, 2004

On Tuesday, the Bush campaign launched a 30-second television ad titled "Wacky." It is expected to run on national cable channels and to be broadcast in 18 states the parties consider competitive. California is not among them.

Script: President: "I'm George W. Bush, and I approve this message." Male announcer: "Some people have wacky ideas. Like taxing gasoline more so people drive less. That's John Kerry. He supported a 50-cent-a-gallon gas tax. If Kerry's tax increase were law, the average family would pay $657 more a year. Raising taxes is a habit of Kerry's. He supported higher gasoline taxes 11 times. Maybe John Kerry just doesn't understand what his ideas mean to the rest of us."

Images: The ad, shot in sepia tones, opens with Bush striding in suit and tie along a White House colonnade. Then, as carnival music plays, early 20th-century automobiles circle a hapless policeman at an intersection, evoking the Keystone Kops. Next come an antique gas pump with a running meter, a uniformed person with a shocked expression and more than a dozen people furiously pedaling an extra-long bicycle. Kerry is shown speaking. A gas station attendant from an earlier generation lifts the handle of a pump. A man wearing a bowler hat and walking like Charlie Chaplin turns two empty pockets inside out. A split screen shows Kerry, a gas pump with flickering digital numbers and a woman turning toward it to express surprise. The final shot shows a man pushing an antique car that has evidently run out of gas.

Analysis: This slapstick commercial, one of the most satirical of the presidential campaign so far, accuses Kerry of a backward-thinking energy policy anchored in advocacy of higher gas taxes. It repeats a charge from an earlier Bush ad that Kerry supported raising gasoline taxes by 50 cents a gallon. Two Boston newspapers quoted Kerry in 1994 as verbally supporting a 50-cent increase in the gas tax as part of a larger deficit-reduction package. However, the Kerry campaign says the senator never voted for a 50-cent hike, nor did he ever sponsor legislation to enact one. Calling the charge a distortion, the Kerry campaign points out that one of Bush's top economic advisors, N. Gregory Mankiw, proposed in a 1999 magazine article a 50-cent rise in gas taxes coupled with income tax cuts. It is true that Kerry has voted to raise the federal gas tax. In 1993, he supported a 4.3-cent-per-gallon excise tax on gasoline that was part of legislation enacted that year to reduce the federal deficit. Afterward, he opposed several Republican efforts to repeal it. In 2000, Kerry opposed a temporary suspension of federal gas taxes. Bush's charge that Kerry supported higher gasoline taxes 11 times is misleading because it counts several Senate votes in which Kerry opposed Republican efforts to cut the gas tax. Defeating GOP proposals left the tax unchanged, not higher.

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Graphics reporting by Times staff writer Nick Anderson

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