In a 60-second television spot that aired during professional football games on Sunday, President Bush vowed to voters and sports fans that he would continue fighting for U.S. jobs by seizing export opportunities.
To help make his point, the president's voice delivered the message while the screen showed a container being loaded on a ship bearing a good American-sounding and environmentally friendly name -- Evergreen -- sailing out of port.
The only problem, as people in the transportation business know, is that Evergreen is a Taiwanese shipping company.
Rival Democrats have pounced on the ad.
"So he's fighting for the Taiwanese. Exporting jobs? It's not very sensitive," George Stephanopoulos, campaign communications director for Democratic nominee Bill Clinton, said in a telephone interview from Little Rock, Ark. "It shows whose side he's on."
The timing of the commercial could not have been worse, in the eyes of some, because the major U.S.-flag container lines are threatening to sail under foreign flags if Congress and the White House do not undertake serious maritime reform.
U.S.-flag lines receive about $250 million a year in direct government subsidies but say they are at a competitive disadvantage because of higher wage rates in the United States and more stringent regulations.
Embarrassed Bush campaign officials concede that their advertising agency, The November Co., mistakenly used stock film footage in the "What I'm Fighting For" spot without checking to see whether Evergreen was a U.S. company.
"That segment meant to promote the significance of exports and didn't mean to convey anything other than the fact that exports are an engine of growth or strength to our economy," said Darcey Campbell, a campaign spokeswoman, who added that because the message remains the same, the ad will stay on the air.
Within the Republican Party, there was criticism of the oversight.
"Geez," Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a Maryland Republican, said when told of the incident. "People have to learn to look at things, at every aspect, when they're doing that type" of advertisement.
Mrs. Bentley, famous for taking a sledgehammer to Japanese products, admonished, "I would have chosen American-flag lines."