Kerry TV ad focuses on military service

30-second commercial is scheduled to begin running today in 17 states

March 23, 2004|By Mark Silva | Mark Silva,ORLANDO SENTINEL

ORLANDO, Fla. - Facing a battery of criticism from President Bush, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry will attempt to reframe the campaign today with a new television commercial airing in Florida and several other battleground states.

Kerry's ad promotes his goals as president - providing "affordable health care," rescinding "tax cuts for the wealthy" and "investing" in children - and also seeks to counter an image that Bush is portraying of Kerry as weak on defense.

"For 35 years, John Kerry has fought for his country," says the narrator of the 30-second ad that opens with footage of Kerry in combat gear and features a photograph of the pinning of the Bronze Star on a young Navy lieutenant in Vietnam. "John Kerry: the military experience to defend America," the ad says.

Kerry's initiative - which a media adviser describes as "changing the tone of the campaign" - comes as the Massachusetts senator confronts new assaults from the Republican president. Bush played his strategy in the first rally of his re-election campaign Saturday in Orlando, where the president repeatedly criticized Kerry as a waffler and tax-and-spender who is weak on defense.

"I guess we've seen that the Bush campaign has unveiled a 90-day campaign to redefine the record of John Kerry," said Jim Margolis, Kerry media adviser. "We believe that they're making a fundamental mistake."

By setting a "negative" tone so early in the campaign, Kerry's campaign manager says, the president runs the risk of alienating voters.

Yet it is Kerry, the Bush campaign complains, who set the negative tone early in the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. Kerry's targeted television ads in primary states such as Wisconsin directly criticized the president.

"The Kerry campaign spent three-fourths of their primary money attacking the president, ran 16 attack ads and called the Republicans crooks - all before we ran one ad talking about Kerry's record," said Reed Dickens, a spokesman for the Bush campaign.

One thing is clear: Since the Bush campaign started airing its ad in Florida and 16 other critical states March 11, the president has gained an edge.

Forty-six percent of registered voters favored Bush, 38 percent Kerry, 7 percent independent Ralph Nader, in March 10 to 14 survey of 984 people by CBS News and The New York Times, carrying a possible 3 percentage point margin of error. Bush had been in a dead heat with or trailing Kerry in recent polls.

Kerry faces a familiar problem in election campaigns - the incumbent defining his rival before the rival can define himself.

"Today is the day that we begin defining the senator," said Stephanie Cutter, a Kerry campaign spokeswoman.

This includes one key definition: Kerry's decorated service in Vietnam, where he was awarded Bronze and Silver stars for combat valor. The president piloted jet-fighters stateside for the Texas Air National Guard during Vietnam.

The Republican Party has tried to highlight Kerry's votes against intelligence-gathering and defense spending, and Bush has criticized Kerry's opposition to his $87 billion aid package for Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Kerry campaign has raised $15 million on the Internet alone since claiming the party's nomination, his manager said. The 17-state ad campaign starting today will target Florida, Ohio, Missouri and other states that Bush won in 2000 and states such as Pennsylvania and Washington that Bush is trying to win from Democrats.

"This is the beginning of the advertising campaign for most people in America," Margolis said. "Most people are just starting to look at this campaign."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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