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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Kerry Expands Ad Campaign Into Virginia

The Democrat is spending $750,000 on TV time in a state that votes Republican. Strategists wonder about the strategy.

May 29, 2004|Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry will push his television commercials deep into Virginia next week, in a risky bid to expand the electoral battlefield onto terrain President Bush won easily four years ago.

Democrats said Kerry's move, after earlier advertising forays this month into Colorado and Louisiana, shows the Massachusetts senator wants to pierce Bush's aura of invincibility in parts of the South and the West.

On Friday, Kerry also launched his first Spanish-language commercial since he became the presumptive Democratic nominee. The ad will run for about two weeks in Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Ohio in markets with large Latino populations.

Republicans privately conceded that Colorado, which Bush carried in 2000 after both parties largely ignored it, is now competitive. But they insisted Kerry was wasting his money in the South, except for the tossup state of Florida and possibly Arkansas.

Bush and Kerry have competed on TV in about 18 other states and on national cable networks since March.

California, carried by Democrats in the last three presidential elections, is not among them.

Kerry's launch into Virginia -- a state no Democrat has won since President Lyndon B. Johnson did it in 1964 -- is part of a nearly $18-million purchase for the month of June in targeted states and on national cable. Some of the cable ads will target black voters for the first time in the general election campaign.

Kerry will devote $750,000 of that sum to broadcast ads in Richmond, Roanoke and Norfolk and on Washington, D.C.-area cable channels that reach northern Virginia, according to a Democratic source.

Aside from his foray into the South, Kerry also is opening his appeal to Latino voters -- an important swing constituency.

"John Kerry knows that the monument in Washington to the Second World War also honors soldiers with names like Garcia, Chavez and Ortiz," the new ad says, according to a translation of the script provided by the campaign.

The ad, timed for release during Memorial Day weekend, touts the medals Kerry won as a Navy officer in the Vietnam War.

Kerry has made his military background a cornerstone of his presidential campaign, and on Friday, he echoed the veterans theme during a stop in Green Bay, Wis.

"We have to be responsible to our veterans; we have to be responsible to our children, responsible to create the jobs we need," Kerry told an audience at a railroad museum that included veterans from every war since World War II.

"All of this is what it's really about ... it's about country and history and values and living up to what built this nation in the first place."

Repeating some foreign policy themes he delivered Thursday in Seattle, Kerry said the U.S. should build an alliance to share responsibility in Iraq, provide better support for veterans, revamp the military and become independent of Middle East oil.

Analysts questioned whether the Massachusetts senator's wager on Virginia represented a real play for its 13 electoral votes or a feint. Presidents Carter and Clinton each failed twice to carry the state despite their Southern roots. Bush took it by eight percentage points in 2000 without using any TV ads.

In a sign of his confidence this year, the president stopped advertising May 17 in Louisiana and has no plans to match Kerry in Virginia.

"Bush is going to win in Virginia unless Kerry is scoring a landslide nationally," said Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. Most Democrats, he said, "would never spend money here except to play with the Bush people's minds."

Kenneth M. Goldstein, a University of Wisconsin political scientist, said he thought the Boston Democrat was seeking to project an image as a candidate who could appeal to all regions.

"Even if Virginia is not seriously in play, spending some dollars there is not a bad strategy for Kerry because it gets the media to do stories about how a solid 'red' state is in play," Goldstein said.

(Republican strongholds are often described as "red states" and reliably Democratic states as "blue.")

Kerry advisors said they saw opportunities in Virginia -- a state with growing suburbs, a large population of families with connections to the military, and a centrist Democratic governor, Mark R. Warner.

They believe such voters, in Virginia and other nearby states, will look favorably on Kerry's record as a decorated Vietnam veteran.

Bush campaign officials say most Southerners will shun a Massachusetts senator with a record of supporting higher taxes, cuts in defense and liberal causes.

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt called Kerry's Southern strategy "fanciful."

Rep. Thomas M. Davis of Virginia, a leading GOP strategist, said Bush should spend nothing to defend himself in a state he is all but assured of carrying.

"My counsel to the Kerry campaign is they need to spend $5 million more in Virginia," Davis said, jokingly.

As Kerry probes GOP bastions, some Republicans say the president should venture into more Democratic turf. One suggested target is New Jersey, where Bush has risen in some polls.

Southern New Jersey already sees Bush ads broadcast from the Philadelphia market.

Bush strategists are mindful of the high cost of wasted ads. Republicans spent millions of dollars in 2000 on advertising in California. Democratic nominee Al Gore carried the state without help from any TV ads.

Had he not gambled on California, Bush would have had far more money to compete for electoral votes in several states that turned out to be cliffhangers.

Times staff writer Maria L. La Ganga contributed to this report from Green Bay, Wis.

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