In a $18 million advertising blitz meant to capitalize on the choice of Sen. John Edwards as his running mate, Sen. John F. Kerry launched six new television spots yesterday that highlight his empathy for the problems of ordinary people.
The commercials, along with an earlier biographical ad, will run on cable networks in 17 tightly contested states and, for the first time, on Edwards's home turf of North Carolina, where Kerry trailed President Bush by only a few percentage points in recent polls.
On the war on terrorism, Kerry not only vows to rebuild U.S. alliances and strengthen homeland security but also says: "We shouldn't be opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them down in our own communities."
In another spot, rather than making an abstract argument about job losses -- a key Edwards theme -- Kerry tells an Ohio crowd: "I've met workers who have been out of work for two years. I've met steelworkers and mineworkers and autoworkers who are now laid-off workers. And some of them have told me what it is like to have to unbolt their own equipment, pack it up, put it in a crate and send it to another country." Other spots deal with energy and health care.
Kerry seems at times to be taking a leaf from the playbook of Edwards, "who all his life has stood up for ordinary people against powerful interests," as the spot trumpeting the new running mate puts it.
By avoiding direct attacks on Bush -- and coupling issue ads with more personal spots depicting the Massachusetts senator as a husband, father, hunter and hockey player -- Kerry is trying to create a warmer image in the run-up to the Democratic National Convention, which begins July 26.
The multiple messages are being targeted to different markets based on campaign research -- with the Edwards ad, for instance, airing mainly on cable and in North Carolina. "In some cases, the economy is very much a top-of-mind issue," said Kerry senior strategist Tad Devine. "In other areas, the issue of energy independence is very important."
Devine added that "the positive tone of our advertising . . . stands in marked contrast to what the president is doing."
Matthew Dowd, the Bush campaign's chief strategist, said Kerry "can act like he's running a positive campaign in paid advertising," but "his friends" -- such as independent liberal groups MoveOn.org and the Media Fund -- "have spent $50 million attacking the president."
While Kerry has "some momentum" from the Edwards pick, Dowd said, the Bush campaign plans no immediate response. "It's not something I would advocate prior to a convention, putting seven different ads out," he said.
Darrell West, a Brown University professor who studies political ads, said that "Kerry clearly wants to piggyback on Edwards's high popularity and add some pizzazz to his advertising. . . . He'll lose if he doesn't come across in an empathetic manner, and unemployed workers is a great way to get that across. Most people have jobs, but everyone knows someone who is unemployed or underemployed."
The workers ad is among those that paint a partial picture. The economy has added 1.5 million jobs since August, although there has still been a net loss of more than 1 million jobs during Bush's tenure.
An ad promising tax cuts for the middle class makes no mention of Kerry's plan to roll back tax cuts for those making more than $200,000. The spot also claims that Kerry's proposals would "lower health care premiums by up to $1,000 a family."
That estimate is attributed to Emory University economist Kenneth E. Thorpe, who was a Clinton administration official.
Despite the addition of a southerner to the ticket, the Kerry campaign is suspending advertising in Louisiana and Arkansas.