After months of resisting the temptation to spend some of his $57 million on a media blitz, George W. Bush will hit the Iowa and New Hampshire airwaves tomorrow with his first television ads.
The two or three 30-second spots--final decisions are still being made--won't use the usual candidate-growing-up-
and-hugging-his-children approach. Instead of using biographical material, aides say, the Texas governor will focus on issues.
"One of the assets we have is that the Bush name is well known and a gold standard in American politics," a campaign official said.
"We'll talk about the kind of campaign he wants to run, optimistic and positive. We'll talk a little about his record as [Texas] governor and more about what his vision is for the country."
Don't look for the ads to make news; they mainly will echo the "compassionate conservatism" themes that Bush has been sounding in his stump speeches, from education to personal responsibility. Nor will they break new stylistic ground. Some simply show Bush speaking to the camera, a spare cinematography that proved effective in his 1998 landslide reelection.
The cautious approach is rooted in Bush's huge lead in GOP primary polls and generally favorable press coverage, which the ads will seek to reinforce.
The buy is relatively modest, reflecting the campaign's decision to husband its resources in case rival Steve Forbes mounts a sustained attack on the front-runner. Forbes, who is also promising issue-oriented commercials, launched his first ads months ago.
"We have a lot of catching up to do before we reach where Steve Forbes is," another Bush adviser said.
Test Ban Vote Is Called a 'Sleeper Issue'
When the Senate voted 51 to 48 on Oct. 13 to kill the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Vice President Gore summoned a camera crew to cut the first television commercial of his campaign, sure that he would strike a chord with an electorate overwhelmingly in favor of the ban and disgusted with the Senate's vote to scuttle it.
But a new poll indicates that less than half of Americans have any idea the vote ever took place.
The survey, by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, found that 49 percent of those questioned had heard something about the vote and only 21 percent had heard "a lot" about it. In that subgroup, small percentages reported hearing a lot (29 percent) or a little (9 percent) about the rationale underlying the votes for or against the treaty, which bans all underground nuclear testing.
On the bright side for Gore, 56 percent of those surveyed described as "very important" what presidential candidates have to say about the issue. That was reflected in New Hampshire Thursday night when Gore received his strongest applause as he spoke of his anger over the Senate's rejection of the treaty.
"It's really a sleeper issue," said poll director Andrew Kohut. "It's one where there's an unmet voter need for candidate positions, and I guess that's why Gore jumped on it."
Staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.