Dole plans advertisements attacking Clinton record GOP says shift in tone meets Democrats' tactics

Campaign 1996

September 14, 1996|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In the language of campaigns, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole will be "pivoting" to more "comparative ads" next week, the Dole camp announced yesterday.

Translation: The gloves have come off in the 1996 presidential election.

Since the convention, Dole has been running TV ads that aim to sell his economic plan to the public and -- more recently -- upbeat, mom-and-apple-pie spots that portray him as a man of character.

But trying to break through the steady drumbeat of ads by the Clinton campaign that claim the GOP nominee has "slashed" Medicare, raised taxes by billions of dollars and been the alter ego to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Dole this week stepped up his ad machine and lashed out at what he called "character assassination" by his opponent.

On Monday, his campaign will air the first of several ads that will take on Clinton's record on drugs and crime, showcasing what is becoming a secondary theme to Dole's 15 percent tax-cut plan.

"We're going to lay out our agenda and compare it with Clinton's record," said Dole spokesman Gary Koops. "We will do it in an intellectually honest and completely defendable way."

But in a pre-emptive strike, Clinton campaign spokesman Joe Lockhart said yesterday that he expected the new Dole ads to be "the most negative assault in American presidential history."

Earlier this week, at an appearance in Kentucky, Dole railed against Clinton's ads.

"They get up at their convention and say Bob Dole's a decent man," Dole said. "But then comes the ax. And it comes every day, it comes about every hour on your TV set. Millions and millions and millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars of negative ads."

His aides said that, of the 44,594 showings of Clinton's various ads between March and the first week of September, 43,517, or 97 percent, were negative -- amounting to 362 hours of air time.

They were particularly piqued by a new Clinton ad that highlights Dole's opposition to the Family and Medical Leave Act, the first bill Clinton signed as president, that allows workers unpaid leave to tend to a newborn child or an ailing family member.

In the ad, a couple tells of the time they spent with their daughter, Melissa, before she died.

"Bob Dole led a six-year fight against family leave," the narrator then says. "Twelve million have used leave, but Dole's still against it."

The mother closes with, "President Clinton understands the struggle that families go through."

Koops called the ad "shameless."

He said: "Accusing Bob Dole of not wanting parents to spend time with a dying child is an affront to every parent in America."

Lockhart defended the ad, saying it was produced in response to Dole's speech last Saturday stressing his opposition to the bill.

"What Bob Dole is saying is, 'Stop telling the truth about my record,' " Lockhart said.

He denied the president's ads have been negative, saying they have been issue-oriented. He said two-thirds of the ads have dealt with promoting Clinton's agenda.

"But," he added, "this is an election, this is a choice. We have an obligation to point out where the candidates differ. That's where the other one-third comes in."

He charged Dole with protesting in order to "lay some cover for the all-out character assault he plans to launch next week."

Media analyst Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, said that ads legitimately pointing out differences between the two candidates should not be considered "negative" or "attack" ads.

In fact, she said, this year's ads have been noteworthy for their "extraordinarily high level of comparison" between the Dole and Clinton records, in contrast to the "pure attack ads" in the 1980, 1988 and 1992 election cycles.

"That's a change," she said, "and I think it's a positive change."

She said neither side has engaged in "dirty" campaigning, but both have engaged in "selective omission."

For instance, Clinton's ads have said Medicare would be "slashed" under a President Dole. Unspoken is that Clinton, too, proposed reducing the rate of Medicare's growth, although to a lesser extent than Dole.

Dole, for his part, aired an ad that said, "Under Clinton, the largest tax increase in history." The ad didn't note that, accounting for inflation, many economists say that Ronald Reagan's 1982 tax increase was the largest.

Both campaigns have spent about $4 million since the conventions on television, and Dole aides say their biggest ad blitz will come in October.

Pub Date: 9/14/96

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