Negative campaigns think outside the tube

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The TV and radio ads may be negative or even nasty, but it's in the interactive arena that the parties are taking presidential-election gamesmanship to new levels.

Negative TV advertising is still being deployed, especially in key states, and the negative focus even extends to political memorabilia. Sales are strong for anti-Bush bumper stickers and even a Bush doll with a Pinocchio nose, and anti-Kerry buttons and other items are just now coming on the market.

But for hammering home policy points and engaging hard to reach young voters, nothing quite lives up to Web games. The sites of both the Republican and Democratic national committees feature video games that take direct aim at rival's positions.

Jesse Berney, Web content developer for the DNC said the games appeal to a variety of voters. "There are multiple reasons to do it. They appeal to our base voters and part of the reason to have a Web site is to spread the message. We also hope to appeal to a younger group of voters and bring in more people."

The Republican National Committee site boasts a "Kerry vs. Kerry" boxing game ( that comes complete with commentary by boxing promoter Don King, a Bush backer. In every fight, each mouse click generates a punch and a statement by Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in which the game claims he contradicts himself.

Recently, the Republican National Committee launched a Kerry-oke game parodying "The Way We Were" with such lyrics as: "Flip-flops ... They're the flips he flopped." Another game features the "John Kerry $pendometer" with a cash-register sound. RNC designer Jeremy Kenney created the games in-house.

"What we are aiming to do is to reach out to as many people as possible," said Christine Iverson, a committee spokeswoman. She added the games, like some of the video ads produced for the Web site, try to reach voters in different ways.

"We want to reach out to undecided voters with Web videos, funnier efforts and political ads and do it in a non-traditional way," she said.

kicking it up

The Democratic National Committee site features a "click to kick Bush out" game ( in which a donkey kicks a cartoon President Bush out of the White House. Where he goes depends on the viewer's choice of a "one hoofer" "two hoofer" or "shock and ouch," with the choices ranging from just over the White House, or to Texas or Mars. The game, which is promoted in ads on other Web sites and blogs, was created by E-tractions of Bedford, Mass., which also has done some earlier game ads for the DNC.

Michael Gauthier, CEO, E-tractions, said his company has also done an oil-house game for the Kerry campaign ( oil_house) featuring members of the Bush cabinet slipping into the White House. "The Web has become a powerful source of information and people are looking for an attractive and entertaining way to put [out] a campaign or political situation. It's an interactive way to go out and reach your member base and it can have a huge viral effect."

Mr. Berney said Democrats haven't done as many games as Republicans because the GOP has a familiar candidate, while Democrats are introducing Mr. Kerry to voters. "People know about Bush. It's much more of a focus for us to let them know about John Kerry."

While the games can be humorous, getting people to visit the party sites or candidate sites can lead to opportunities to sign up voters, motivate them and to fundraising. The Democratic National Committee recently named Plus Three, New York, as agency of record for strategic marketing communications that include integration of the party's Web site, e-mail and fund-raising lists and information.

Off the official campaign and party sites, the anti-Bush and anti-Kerry theme is being carried out in buttons, blow up dolls and bumper stickers.

Jeff Lewis, a former Austin, Texas, bartender, who with a friend formed Two Unemployed Democrats in 2001, said sales at the company's took off this year. One of the site's most popular items is a button and bumper sticker reading "Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot."

The site also sells a Bushocchio doll, a two-foot blow up image of President Bush with a Pinocchio style nose. The doll is marketed by John Lawler, a Berkeley, Calif., toy marketer (

"It was designed to be a protest tool," he said, adding that while he began planning the doll last June, it actually went on sale five months later.

While the Bush campaign has attacked Mr. Kerry in its advertising, there are far fewer anti-Kerry items, with one of the few being a ScaryKerry button and T-shirt.

Republicans and political memorabilia companies say the lack of anti-Kerry things so far reflect the relatively short time it's been clear he's the nominee. "Bush has been around a lot longer giving people time to create items," said Dan Jordan, owner of, a Santa Ana, Calif., site that sells various Republicans buttons including "ScaryKerry." He adds that the intensity of the Republicans may not match the Democrats.

"Democrats really hate George Bush, but it's not as strong for Republicans against Kerry. There is not as strong a hatred," he said.

Sharon Young, head of Market Vision, which sells both political parties' buttons (, said her company debated removing all the anti buttons earlier this year.

"We couldn't. The demand is huge. It's only 10% of our product line but 50% of our business."

Ms. Young, however, said the biggest political button of the year so far this year isn't for either Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry.

"Our best-selling button is `Free Martha,' " she said.

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