WASHINGTON — Biting political commercials surfaced in several electoral hot spots Friday, as the two sides in the presidential race traded charges on a variety of fronts.
In one ad, President Bush said Sen. John F. Kerry would raise taxes on business. In another, Kerry slammed Vice President Dick Cheney's ties to a controversial defense contractor. And various other ads sniped at Bush or Kerry on such matters as Vietnam War protests, healthcare costs and the rising death toll in Iraq.
The intensifying advertising battle comes after presidential candidates and interest groups have already spent well over $300 million on TV since March, according to the TNSMI/Campaign Media Analysis Group. The previous high was about $200 million in 2000.
A new Bush advertisement, launched Friday in Miami and elsewhere, charged that Kerry was in league with "liberals in Congress" to raise taxes on 900,000 small-business owners. "Tax increases would hurt jobs, hurt small business and hurt our economy," the ad declared.
The Bush campaign cited Kerry's support for tax increases on families making more than $200,000 a year as evidence.
The Kerry campaign called the ad "misleading," noting that the Massachusetts senator had proposed tax breaks for businesses and tax cuts for the middle and lower classes.
Kerry was also on the offensive. His commercial on Cheney's connections to Halliburton Co. shadowed the vice president during his campaign trip to Oregon on Friday. The spot said Cheney had received $2 million in deferred compensation from the energy-services firm he once headed, even as the company was winning a no-bid contract for work in Iraq.
The Bush campaign called the ad's insinuation that Cheney helped Halliburton "baseless."
Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt accused Kerry of trying to change the subject days after the president had ridiculed the Democrat's healthcare plan as a "scheme" for a big-government takeover of medical decisions.
TV viewers in Minneapolis, however, saw a hard-hitting Democratic Party spot on healthcare. The new ad accused Republicans of leaving hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans without health insurance and siding with the pharmaceutical industry instead of consumers.
"They chose to help big drug companies," the ad declared, "but on reducing healthcare costs, who will help you?"
Republicans, however, credit Bush with signing into law last year the first Medicare prescription drug benefit.
In Wisconsin, the Democratic National Committee weighed in with an ad that showed footage of Bush's well-known "Mission Accomplished" speech in May 2003. In his remarks, the president declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq.
The ad noted the rising death toll in Iraq since then and asserted, "America can do better."
Another anti-Bush ad began in Wisconsin on Thursday, paid for by a group called Safer for America. It depicted the wife of an Army National Guardsman stationed in Iraq. She criticized the Bush administration's efforts to link the war to the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
In New Mexico, the anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth aired a new ad about the Democrat's actions at an antiwar protest in 1971.
The ad quoted Kerry telling ABC News this year that he had discarded ribbons he had earned for his actions on a Navy gunboat during the war. Kerry stressed that he had tossed his ribbons, rather than his medals.
The ad questioned Kerry's answer, quoting his assertion to a TV interviewer in 1971 that he had thrown medals at the protest in Washington.
"John Kerry: Can you trust anything he says?" the ad asked.
The Kerry campaign has denounced Swift Boat Veterans as a smear operation. The group's first ad challenged Kerry's service record in Vietnam, but its claims were discredited by eyewitness accounts and military records.