At this late point in the race, some had expected the Clinton/Gore '96 campaign to begin running uplifting, patriotic commercials. Instead, the campaign launched some of its sharpest attack ads in weeks.
One new spot from Squier Knapp Ochs, Washington, accuses rival Bob Dole of trying to "slash" Medicare, "raid our pension funds" and stick citizens with a "risky tax scheme." A second spot claims Mr. Dole is trying to "cut vaccines for children," "slash college scholarships" and "let toxic polluters off the hook."
"To sit around and run negative ads attacking opponents is a total waste of money. Everyone already knows about their character and all it demonstrates is no vision," said Hal Riney, chairman of Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco, who's worked on recent Republican presidential campaigns.
The Clinton campaign defended its latest ads.
"A vote hasn't been cast and we are not taking anything for granted," said Lisa Davis, deputy press secretary. "People want to know the differences."
The Dole campaign is also running attack advertising, including one spot about a little girl who claimed to smoke marijuana because President Clinton had done it. National Media Corp., Alexandria, Va., handles most of the Republican candidate's ads.
Also, last week the Republican National Committee started running print ads questioning the president's character.
Political ad professionals suggest national polls may overstate President Clinton's lead and also note that states with heavy electoral votes, notably Florida and Texas, remain close.
Last week, $4 million in ad spending was shifted to California, the state with the most electoral votes.
David Doak, a principal in Doak, Carrier & Associates, a Democratic ad and political consultancy, suggested ending campaigns with positive ads sounds appealing, but doesn't work.
"We have learned in politics, that negative and comparative advertising is more salient than a positive message," Mr. Doak said. "The safe tack is to stick to comparative media to the end."