MANCHESTER, N.H., FEB. 13 -- No one said it was going to be pretty.
And today, the television commercials of the presidential candidates turned wild and woolly, with the back and forth between candidates of the same party evoking the pre-bout oratory of "Saturday Night Wrestling."
"George Bush led the fight for the INF treaty for Ronald Reagan," says the announcer in the vice president's new commercial. "Bob Dole straddled until Iowans pushed him into supporting INF."
The spot features two reversed photographs of Dole as it accuses him of "straddling" on the oil import fee (which Dole favors and Bush opposes) and, particularly sensitive in New Hampshire, new taxes.
Bush "won't raise taxes period," the announcer says. "Bob Dole straddled, and he just won't promise not to raise taxes. And you know what that means."
"I take it as a positive sign," Dole campaign spokesman Paul Jacobson said of the Bush attack ad, his first of the campaign. "I don't think a sitting vice president would go negative with his advertising unless he felt threatened."
Dole's new commercial, meanwhile, shows him speaking to a rapt campaign audience about how to deal with the Soviets. "If I understand anything in the 27 years I've been in Congress, it's that the Soviets understand strength," he says. "Bob Dole's not looking for any armed conflict."
On the Democratic side, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) today unleashed an ad defending himself against Sen. Paul Simon (Ill.) and attacking Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.
"Simon has been distorting the Gephardt record on Social Security," an announcer says as words flash on screen. "And what about Dukakis? He's attacked Dick Gephardt for voting to cut your income taxes. But what else would you expect from Dukakis, who's one of the biggest tax-raisers in Massachusetts history?"
Dukakis' ad reminds voters of his opposition to the Seabrook nuclear power plant and takes a veiled slap at Simon.
In another new commercial, Simon, who two days ago deployed an attack ad against Gephardt, goes after Dukakis, who, he tells viewers, "has accused me of being an old-fashioned Democrat. I plead guilty." He adds: "It's not enough to have ambition and the fire in the belly to be president. You should also have vision and substance and conviction and the fire in the heart . . . . "
An announcer quotes from the Lawrence, Mass., Eagle Tribune's endorsement of Simon. "President Dukakis would head a bureaucracy. President Simon would head a nation of people."
Republican Pat Robertson, meanwhile, is taking the high road, airing a variety of commercials capitalizing on his "stunning," second-place performance in the Iowa caucuses -- "Robertson has become the clear choice of conservatives," the announcer says -- and promoting prayer in public schools, and cutting government spending on poverty programs and loans to communist countries. The ads, which seek to broaden the former television evangelist's appeal, end with the tag, "Let's make common sense common practice in Washington."
In another new spot, Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) attacks Bush and Dole as being insufficiently committed to the cause of the "freedom fighters" in Nicaragua.
Democratic candidate Jesse L. Jackson is running televised testimonials from white New Hampshire voters, while Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) is spending $70,000 on Manchester's WMUR-TV to run a biographical spot that touts him as "the one Democrat who can win."
Bush has blitzed the costly Boston television market with at least $421,000 in commercials in the final week of the primary campaign here, while Gore has outspent all other candidates on WMUR, New Hampshire's lone station.
Dole paid about $376,000 for air time on Boston's three network affiliates in the final week, bringing his total purchase there to some $648,000, according to figures compiled Friday from public records.
Kemp, whose campaign is in debt and dropping in the polls, actually leads all spenders in Boston with almost $680,000, but only about $183,000 is for the last week.
Bush's scramble to avert another loss to Dole is evident from his final media buy, which brings his total to $582,000.
By contrast, Walter F. Mondale, who lost the New Hampshire primary to Gary Hart in 1984, spent about $530,000 in all television markets for New Hampshire that year, according to his campaign treasurer Michael S. Berman.
Candidates are limited to spending $461,000 for all their campaign expenses in New Hampshire this year. But only about 15 percent of the money spent on Boston television counts toward the limit because New Hampshire residents make up only 15 percent of the viewing audience.
Robertson, coming off his surprise second in Iowa's caucuses, bought $70,175 on the three Boston affiliates for the final week, bringing his total to $114,000. Former Delaware governor Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV, whose campaign told supporters he would buy $1 million of television for New Hampshire if he had the money, bought $134,500 the last week for a total of $311,000.
The major Democratic spender has been Dukakis, who bought $236,450 on Boston stations for the last week, compared with $117,675 for Gephardt, $89,520 for Hart and $52,800 for Simon.
Most candidates also bought time on WMUR-TV in Manchester.
Staff writers Charles R. Babcock and Michael Rezendes contributed to this report.