Republican presidential hopeful Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes is kicking off a $2 million television, radio and newspaper advertising campaign this week, opening the 2000 election season more than eight months before the first primary.

The four-week ad cycle, dubbed by his campaign the "earliest ever" major media buy in presidential history, will be the first installment of $10 million that Forbes plans to spend on advertising through the summer.

Sources close to the multimillionaire said he was taking a page from President Clinton's 1996 playbook by trying to get his message across early in hopes of defining the campaign agenda.

The ads, to run nationwide on cable television stations, conservative radio programs, the newspaper USA Today and local papers in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nebraska, feature an upbeat Forbes presenting himself as "an outsider," who, as one ad puts it, "is not a part of the political process, who's not caught up in the day-to-day give-and-take of compromise with special interests."

The full-page newspaper ad notes that Forbes's personal wealth gives him a degree of independence unmatched by his rivals, and the $2 million is also more money than any of his GOP rivals raised in the first quarter of 1999 except Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Negative ads by Forbes caused eventual Republican presidential nominee Robert J. Dole a lot of trouble during the primary campaign in 1996, but this year's opening salvo of seven television ads simply lays out Forbes's general positions in favor of a flat tax and individual retirement accounts and introduces Forbes as an outsider capable of providing America with a "moral compass."

Quotable I

New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R), contemplating a Senate race, had some fun at the expense of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is looking at the same Senate race. Giuliani, who has a penchant for dressing in costume--he wore a dress and wig on "Saturday Night Live"--donned a red Arkansas jacket and cap and announced he was headed to Little Rock:

"I'm going to say, 'I've never lived in Arkansas, I've never worked in Arkansas, I've never been to Arkansas, but I love Arkansas,' " he said to 1,700 supporters at a New York city fund-raiser. " 'In fact, I love it so much I'm going to be running for the Senate. And do you know how I'm going to prepare for it? I'm going to come here and take a vacation, in Arkansas.' "

Quotable II

Garry Mauro, the Texas Railroad Commission member who ran against Gov. George W. Bush last year and lost in a landslide, acknowledged that his presidential choice, Vice President Gore, is trailing Bush badly in Texas.

"Gore's expectations, as a result, are way down here, while Bush's are way up here," Mauro told a reporter. Bush has "nowhere to go but down. I'd rather be where we are than where he is."

He was.

Staff writer David Von Drehle contributed to this report.