Dean makes risky $1M early ad buy

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By making an unusually heavy early ad push, presidential hopeful Howard Dean is hoping to steal a march on his rivals-but the strategy is a gamble that could leave his ad coffers depleted in the crucial months before the primaries.

The former Vermont governor, who leads the Democratic pack of candidates, has taken the unusual step of starting an estimated $1 million ad buy in five states 15 months before the 2004 election. While the other candidates are readying their advertising-Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., is due to formally announce this week-Dr. Dean's push is the largest yet.

Produced by Trippi McMahon Squier, Alexandria, Va., whose partner Joe Trippi is Dr. Dean's campaign manager, and set to air for two weeks, the ad (at howarddean.tv) has the candidate suggesting Americans need to replace President George W. Bush to bring adequate health care to seniors.

"There are more than 9 million children in America without any health insurance. Most from working families," a narrator says in the 30-second spot. "Washington politicians talk about the problem, but a governor named Howard Dean did something about it. And today every child in Vermont has access to quality health care."

The ad will air in Washington state, Arizona, New Mexico, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Oklahoma.

Tricia Enright, Dr. Dean's communications director, said the campaign decided to buy time this early because "we really believe this is a 50-state campaign and the only way to beat George Bush is to be aggressive. We have run the first 50 miles in a sprint and the only way to continue is to be aggressive."

While the early buy could give Gov. Dean an advantage, it also poses some risk if the campaign accepts federal matching money. One of the conditions of federal matching is that candidates in return limit their spending. Specific limits apply to each state. Spending money now leaves less for the month or two before next year's primaries.

Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNS Media Intelligence/ CMR's Campaign Media Analysis Group, suggests that together with earlier Dean forays in New Hampshire, Iowa and Austin, Texas, the latest buy represents a shrewd attempt to expand media coverage, attention and fund-raising.

"His earlier decision to spend $120,000 on an Austin spot got him full coverage on `Meet The Press.' By going up with this early buy he is moving to become a national candidate," said Mr. Tracey. "At a time there is a virtual blackout on media coverage for the race because of [the] California governor's race, the buy could help his fund-raising more than anything else and help him get attention."

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