Battleground states: Kerry camp lets Bush jabs go unanswered

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If the normal rule of political advertising is that an unanswered charge becomes political fact 24 hours later, Sen. John Kerry is violating political orthodoxy. He is leaving largely unanswered ad attacks the Bush camp has waged nationally.

The Kerry campaign, together with six or seven groups supporting Democratic issues, is concentrating its advertising firepower in 17 to 19 battleground states, as is President Bush's campaign, but while the Bush campaign also has bought some national cable, Kerry has bought far less of that. The on-air result is that Mr. Bush's attacks (a current Bush spot charges Mr. Kerry has "repeatedly opposed weapons to winning the war on terrorism" and calls "John Kerry's record on national security ... troubling") go without rebuttal in most of the nation.

According to TNSMI's Campaign Media Analysis Group, the Bush campaign has spent $5.2 million on national cable since March, dwarfing the Kerry campaign's $250,000. Even though the Kerry campaign announced it will spend a massive $27.5 million, the vast majority is slated for spot TV and only $2.5 million is for national cable. As of now, the Bush campaign spending is nearly double that of Kerry in national cable for the week ending May 9: Bush $470,000; Kerry $250,000.

Mr. Kerry's biographical spot from Shrum, Devine & Donilon cites his war record and medals. That has aired in battleground states where the Bush ads also run, but it's national airings are far fewer.

Will that hurt Mr. Kerry? Experts disagree.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said the national ads help bolster Mr. Bush's poll numbers nationally, which could help him in battleground states. "The reason it matters is that President Bush is trying to hold his poll numbers up. One reason everyone is giving [in the face of Iraq news] is the national ads."

But she cautioned that any benefits could be fleeting. "There is some danger that they are putting it out so early, that they are giving Kerry a long time to respond."

Bill Carrick, the Morris & Carrick ad executive who earlier this year handled the presidential campaign of Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., acknowledged the cable buy could account for the president's stronger showing in national polls than in battleground states. But he cautioned that there can be other issues with buying cable for presidential campaign ads.

"If you are buying the news networks do the ads get overwhelmed by the constant barrage of news?" he asked. "One theory is that the people focused on news information are those most likely to have stronger points of view and be partisans."

Steve McMahon, who handled former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's ads, said there is some indication that the Bush ads aren't hurting Mr. Kerry and responding isn't necessary. "A negative ad that isn't doing any damage to its target is like a tree falling in forest with no one there to see it fall," he said. "They look desperate."

Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton said the campaign just started its major battleground state spending with a $25 million buy. "As people get to know Sen. Kerry, we will expand the playing field and begin looking at a lot of other opportunities," said the spokesman.

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