WASHINGTON — President Bush's campaign unveiled a television ad Friday that sought to undermine public confidence in Sen. John F. Kerry's ability to combat terrorism, using images of menacing wolves prowling through a shadowy forest while a narrator warns: "Weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm."
Kerry's campaign denounced the 30-second Bush ad as a desperate scare tactic designed to obscure the president's record. At the same time, the Democratic National Committee quickly produced its own animal ad, which likens the president to an ostrich with its head in the sand.
"This is kitchen-sink time, when you throw everything out there," said Evan Tracey, an analyst at the TNSMI/Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks television ads for The Times. He described Bush's "wolves" ad as "an attempt by the Bush folks to change the dialogue and push the undecided [voters] by using emotional pictures and words."
The Bush campaign also aired another new ad in Miami that accused Kerry of backing the interests of Cuban President Fidel Castro.
The 30-second spot, in Spanish, shows images of Castro and of Kerry as a narrator condemns the Massachusetts senator's vote against a 1996 law, the Helms-Burton Act, which tightened economic sanctions against the island nation at a time of heightened diplomatic tensions between Havana and Washington.
Kerry and the "liberals in Congress," the narrator charges, "don't understand what a dictator is." The spot, first seen Thursday, sought to tarnish Kerry's standing with the Cuban American community, a key voting bloc in Florida. Kerry was among 22 senators, including four Republicans, who opposed the legislation in March 1996.
In the "wolves" ad, an ominous voice says: "In an increasingly dangerous world, even after the first terrorist attack on America, John Kerry and the liberals in Congress voted to slash America's intelligence budget by $6 billion. Cuts so deep they would have weakened America's defenses. And weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm."
The ad buttressed claims by Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on the campaign trail that America would face greater risks of terrorist attacks if Kerry were elected president.
The ad depicts a thick forest from above amid sounds of scurrying animals. Then the camera penetrates deep into the woods as shadows dance across the brush. Soon viewers see a pack of wolves atop a hill. As the commercial fades, the predators begin crawling toward the camera.
The ad is scheduled to air on local television affiliates in 14 battleground states as well as on national cable networks, according to the Bush campaign and the Republican National Committee, which are spending about $15 million on TV commercials this week.
Tracey said "Wolves"' seemed to be modeled after an ad that President Reagan's campaign aired in 1984, showing a grizzly bear, representing the Soviet Union, shuffling through the forest.
The Kerry campaign counterattacked Friday by questioning Bush's support for funding for intelligence gathering, claiming that his nominee for CIA director, former Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), had supported even deeper cuts than Kerry, who was among many senators that sought funding cuts for intelligence after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"Instead of giving voters even one good reason to vote for him, George W. Bush has chosen to scare the American people with images of wolves," Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton said. "This only reminds people that it's time for a fresh start and a new direction in America."