WASHINGTON — President Bush sharply curtailed television advertising in Washington state this week, a sign that national Republicans may be privately conceding the state's 11 electoral votes.
With California already being counted in the Democratic column, the apparent Bush pullback from Washington would leave Oregon as the last competitive state on the West Coast in the presidential race. It would also strengthen Democratic nominee John F. Kerry's presumed electoral base.
The Bush-Cheney campaign broadcast only a handful of commercials targeting the state's largest TV markets Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, according to independent data compiled for The Times.
For most of September, Bush was airing on average 20 or more spots a day in Spokane and Seattle combined.
Equally telling, neither Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney has visited Washington since well before the Republican National Convention. Bush was last there to raise money in a Seattle suburb on Aug. 13.
Republicans acknowledge that the president faces a tough challenge in the Evergreen State, which Democrat Al Gore carried by 5 percentage points in 2000.
"Look at a map and you see clearly that the West Coast and the Northeast are very different from the rest of America," said state GOP chairman Chris Vance. "Washington state is very socially liberal."
Bush, by contrast, has taken positions on most social issues that are almost entirely conservative.
Vance said he was not speaking for the president's campaign, and he stressed that Republicans were continuing to mount a vigorous voter turnout drive for the Nov. 2 election. He said fiscal conservatism could be a winning message in the state.
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt declined to comment on the status of the campaign there. The last Republican to carry the state was President Reagan in 1984.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee apparently also is scaling back its TV advertising in Washington.
The Seattle Times reported Thursday that the GOP committee had canceled $1 million of airtime on Seattle stations for commercials that were to benefit Rep. George R. Nethercutt Jr., the Republican Senate candidate, in his contest against Democratic Sen. Patty Murray.
The Seattle market is the state's largest, reaching 1.7 million viewers -- including vote-rich suburbs.
"Right now, things look very good for the Democrats," said Kirstin Brost, spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party. "I think momentum right now is ours."
If Bush pulls out of Washington, it would shrink the field of states that are potential wild cards in the election. In recent weeks, Kerry has pulled back his ads in Republican-leaning states, including Missouri and Arizona.
Television ad-buying data show that Bush's profile this week in the state is waning, after Bush spent more than $3.5 million there this year.
The president's campaign aired five spots Tuesday on local stations, not counting his ads on national cable channels, according to the independent ad monitor TNSMI/Campaign Media Analysis Group. He recorded a similar low volume Sunday and Monday.
In Portland, Ore., by contrast, the president is running dozens of ads each day and is in a dogfight with Kerry for the state's seven electoral votes. Bush plans to visit Portland and Medford next week.
"It's probably safe to start calling Washington for Kerry based on media buys," said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer for TNSMI/Campaign Media Analysis Group. "Bush is down below the watermark of reasonable advertising."