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THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

Campaigns' Ads Go Separate Ways

Both address perceived vulnerabilities: Bush on domestic issues and Kerry on foreign policy.

September 21, 2004|Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush's television advertising campaign in the last week focused almost exclusively on jobs, healthcare and tax cuts in an effort to shore up his own position on domestic issues.

Sen. John F. Kerry, meanwhile, sought to link foreign and domestic policy in many of his TV ads under the slogan "stronger at home, respected in the world."

These contrasting approaches, illuminated Monday by new ad data compiled for the Los Angeles Times, reveal how the two campaigns are shaping their messages in part to address their potential vulnerabilities -- Bush on domestic affairs and Kerry on Iraq.

They also show that the outcome of the election, at least in the minds of campaign strategists, might not depend upon a single, dominant theme.

"Candidates have to mix messages to a certain degree," said Larry J. Sabato, a presidential election analyst at the University of Virginia. "And this campaign is anchored on top of two pillars. One is Iraq/terror. And the other is the economy, including healthcare.

"Both candidates must reinforce those pillars from their perspective constantly. You can't have a campaign for president anymore that has a single message day in, day out."

The Times data, from the independent ad monitor TNSMI/Campaign Media Analysis Group, show Bush spent $7 million on TV ads in the largest markets of battleground states from Sept. 12 through Saturday. Kerry spent $4.4 million.

The spending showed the emerging contours of the electoral map two weeks after Labor Day. Kerry targeted 11 states, up from eight the week before. They were: Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The new states on Kerry's list were Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Oregon, while West Virginia dropped off.

Bush matched Kerry in every state and also bought time in Colorado, Arizona, Maine, Missouri, Washington state and West Virginia.

As it had in previous weeks, the Democratic National Committee also spent independently to help Kerry stay alive in some Bush-leaning states such as Arizona, Missouri, Colorado and North Carolina. The DNC spent, in all, more than $4 million for the week. Starting today, the Kerry campaign will advertise in Colorado for the first time this month, a Democratic strategist said.

Among groups outside the campaigns and political parties, anti-Bush MoveOn.org spent about $200,000 for the week; anti-Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth spent more than $415,000, and anti-Kerry Progress for America spent more than $575,000.

But dollar figures and target states don't tell the whole story of the ad battle. Messages matter much more at this stage of the campaign. In that respect, Bush and Kerry last week took diverging paths.

The president flooded the airwaves with 30-second ads promoting his domestic plans. Take Columbus, Ohio, as a snapshot of the week's ad campaign. Viewers there saw one spot highlighting Bush's agenda -- "job-friendly economy ... end the junk lawsuits ... small employers join together to purchase insurance" -- 12 times. They saw other spots on the economy 81 times and on healthcare 176 times.

No one in Columbus saw a Bush ad on Iraq or terrorism last week, even though the president mentions it in his speeches. That was also true of virtually all top media markets monitored for The Times, although a Bush ad on national security apparently ran twice in Portland, Maine.

By contrast, Kerry was talking about Iraq in many of his ads. For instance, he ran an ad 176 times in Columbus that attacked Bush for spending $200 billion on Iraq and making "wrong choices" on domestic priorities. That ad also aired heavily in Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa and New Mexico, among other states.

And Kerry launched a new Iraq-related ad called "Defend America" in Oregon, Wisconsin and New Mexico.

The Democrat's other major ad last week attacked Bush for the government's recent announcement of a 17% Medicare premium increase.

Neither candidate ran advertisements last week about an issue that had been a leading factor in campaign news coverage -- the activities of Bush and Kerry during the Vietnam War.

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