Political ad machines gear up for primaries

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Advertising for the presidential race has kicked into high gear as Democratic rivals try to topple former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's considerable New Hampshire lead and Republicans work to defend President Bush.

The Republican National Committee launched its first ads of the campaign Nov. 22, a $100,000 three-day buy in Iowa aimed at bolstering President Bush before Democratic rivals offer their criticism at a state debate.

policy initiative

The spot from Crawford Creative, Houston, has the president defending the war in Iraq. "Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others," said the ad. Democrats immediately attacked the ad for "[politicizing] the war ... for partisan gain," as one said.

Meanwhile, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., having decided to join Dr. Dean in forgoing public financing and the state-by-state spending limits it imposes, stepped up his Iowa advertising and launched a major policy and public relations initiative in New Hampshire.

The early race-Iowa's caucuses are Jan. 19, New Hampshire's primary Jan. 27- is forcing the candidates to begin making their moves now.

The Kerry camp launched a New Hampshire "real deal" bus tour and late last week was getting set to unveil policy initiatives to provide "a clear vision" of his first 100 days in office. As part of the moves, the campaign broke a spot from Riverfront Media, a partnership of Omnicom's GMMB and Shrum, Devine & Donilon, both Washington, D. C. (see Garfield review, P. 4).

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, meanwhile, was still running his first introductory ad, a 60-second biographical spot from Joe Slade White, East Aurora, N.Y., that will move to a 30-second ad shortly. Matt Bennett, a spokesman, said the campaign will quickly move to issue advertising about the economy, health care and education.

conventional ads

Dr. Dean's rivals, including both Mr. Kerry and Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., are making reference to just what it will take to win the election in remarks clearly targeted at Dean. A current Kerry ad says the senator is a candidate "who can take on George Bush and change the direction of the nation" and shows President Bush on an aircraft carrier. Mr. Gephardt last week launched an ad in Iowa from Morris & Carrick, Los Angeles, refuting claims made in a Dean campaign ad.

"They are all using very conventional political [issue] advertising, when the one issue for Democrats is: They want somebody who will beat Bush, or, if they can't, then beat up Bush," said Dick Bennett, president of American Research Group, a Manchester, N.H., polling firm. "What people really like in Dean is he will take it to Bush and the other candidates all dance around that."

issues matter

Mark Wrighton, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, said Dr. Dean is "capturing some of the anger Democrats have," he said. "He is connecting here in New Hampshire. He is able to look people in the eye and doesn't make any apologies for what he stands for. [But] there is still room for others," he added, noting that a quarter of voters haven't yet made up their minds.

While eight weeks isn't much time, officials of both the Gephardt and Kerry campaigns cautioned that many voters are just beginning to focus on the election, and point out that Vice President Al Gore was further behind four years ago.

"Most people in these two states are just beginning to pay attention and we are just beginning to paint in the picture," said Jim Margolis, a principal of GMMB, and one of Mr. Kerry's ad people. "One of our competitive advantages is how he looks on TV. Voters will look at him and see him as presidential."

Mr. Margolis said that at an Iowa event, Mr. Kerry said, "Don't just send them a message. Send them a president."

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