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Analysis
Bush vs. Kerry: The Battle of the TV Ads

By Natasha Pradhan, 13, California
Scholastic Student Reporter


Top: A frame of a new 30-second President Bush campaign commercial titled "Wacky." The ad's announcer says, "Some people have wacky ideas. Like taxing gasoline more so people drive less. That's John Kerry." The ad starts running on March 31, 2004. (© AP Photo/Bush Cheney 04), Bottom: This is a video image of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's newest campaign ad entitled, "Fought for America." The ad started to air on Tuesday, March 23, 2004. (© AP Photo/Kerry for President)


March 2004—Bush-Cheney '04 fired its first campaign attacks by airing TV ads this month blasting President Bush's Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry. The first negative ads went public March 12 in 18 major battleground states.

The first ads—titled "100 Days" and "Forward"—aimed strong criticism toward Kerry. The ad "100 Days" emphasizes the significance of a President's first 100 days in office. The ad says Kerry will raise taxes and weaken the Patriot Act. Both the radio and television versions of this ad ended with the phrase: "John Kerry: Wrong on taxes. Wrong on defense."

The Bush campaign's second ad, titled "Forward," brings into sharp focus Kerry's views without directly naming the Massachusetts Senator. "We can go forward with confidence, resolve and hope. Or we can turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat." The rest of the ad depicts people in their everyday lives, with a voice-over of President Bush talking about moving America forward.

Are these negative ads working? According to TIME magazine, they are. A poll by the magazine showed Bush's favorable ratings increased 4 to 5 percentage points in states where the spots ran.

"Troops" is the campaign's most recent ad, which began airing on March 16 in West Virginia. An updated version began airing nationwide on March 18. The ad examines a few of Kerry's defense votes in the Senate. "Though John Kerry voted in October of 2002 for military action in Iraq, he later voted against funding our soldiers...body armor for troops in combat...higher combat pay...and better health care for reservists and their families," states the ad. The updated version includes a clip of Kerry at a rally on March 16 saying, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion—before I voted against it."

But is the Bush campaign avoiding addressing the issues in favor of attacking his opponent?

"These aren't negative ads," said Bush campaign advisor Mary Matalin. "They are ready-to-engage-on-the-issues ads. If [John Kerry] thinks that's negative then he needs to look at his own record."

Kerry Rebuts

The Kerry campaign did not take this attack sitting down. On March 13, Kerry aired his own negative ad across 16 of the 18 battleground states that Bush had targeted.

"Once again, George Bush is misleading America," said the ad. "John Kerry has never called for a $900 billion tax increase. Doesn't America deserve more from its President than misleading, negative ads?"

In support of Kerry's policies, the ad continues, "John Kerry will crack down on the export of American jobs, get health care costs under control, and cut the deficit.

"John Kerry—a new direction for America," is the concluding catch phrase. The Bush campaign responded immediately. Steve Schmidt, a campaign spokesperson, said the ad was "a futile attempt to obscure the fact that John Kerry's new spending proposals would result in a tax hike for all Americans."

Battle of the Web Sites

On President Bush's official campaign site, the Bush campaign offers supporting evidence of the statements made in the "100 Days" TV and radio commercial. The site quotes Kenneth Thorpe, a Health Care Economics professor at Emory University and former Clinton administration official, as saying that the Kerry health care plans would cost the U.S. government $895 billion over 10 years. He also says it "still would not cover all currently uninsured individuals." The Kerry campaign launched its own Web site called "Dbunker" to correct misleading attacks by President Bush. "Bush's ad takes Kerry's statement out of context," says copy on the Web site. "The $900 billion number in the Bush ad is a fabrication and shows that George Bush is running a campaign of deception and distortion."

Dbunker also responds to Bush's "Troops" ad, claiming that Bush has broken his promises to the nation's military. "Bush opposed an amendment to provide health care to all uninsured reservists. Bush proposed cutting combat pay for troops overseas," says an article on Dbunker.

"We are determined to make this campaign about real issues facing Americans," said Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill. "But when the Bush campaign misrepresents Kerry's record or his plans for the future, we will not hesitate to set the record straight."

The TV and radio commercials, however, are only the start of this fight. Following a union rally in Chicago, Illinois, on March 10, Kerry made an off-the-camera statement about the Republican "attack dogs," causing an uproar in the press.

"These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group of people I've ever seen," he said to a worker. At first, it was presumed that Senator Kerry was not aware of the fact that his microphone was on. Later statements from Kerry's press secretary, David Wade, refuted this notion.

Wade said that Kerry's statement was not directed toward Bush, but instead toward Republicans who instigated "crooked, deceitful, personal attacks over the last four years."

Although it's just March, the squabbling between the two parties may make it, at times, feel like September, when Election Day is right around the corner.