John F. Kerry's presidential campaign, overshadowed by the Republican convention and planning a quicker message team, sought to break into the headlines Tuesday by announcing a $45 million advertising buy in the two months before Election Day.
Although the size of the buy is no particular surprise -- White House contenders routinely spend more than half of their $75 million in federal funds for the fall campaign on television spots -- it is unusual for a campaign to trumpet its intentions and spell out where the ads will run.
In addition to national cable networks, the Kerry campaign plans spots in 20 battleground states, from Arizona to Florida to Ohio. The list includes Colorado and Louisiana, two states that are considered difficult terrain for the Democrats, but does not include Virginia, where Kerry aired commercials earlier in the year. Some spending will be targeted at black and Hispanic media outlets.
Stephanie Cutter, Kerry's communications director, denied that the campaign is trying to generate coverage, saying reporters would have figured things out when officials start placing the buy Wednesday. "This is an important part of our strategy of using every means possible to communicate John Kerry's message," she said. "These ads will talk about real issues and real plans to change the direction of this country."
Kerry planned to stay off the air in August as a cost-cutting maneuver, leaving the television campaign against President Bush to independent liberal groups such as the MoveOn.org PAC. But he was forced to respond to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads, which generated enormous media coverage, with spots accusing Bush's campaign of using the group as a front.
The announcement comes as the Kerry team is retooling in the wake of criticism that it was slow to grasp the impact of the Swift boat group's assault on the nominee's Vietnam War record. Cutter confirmed that two recent additions from the Clinton White House will be given expanded roles. Former presidential spokesman Joe Lockhart will accompany Kerry on the road, while Joel Johnson will run the campaign's war room. John Sasso, who managed Michael S. Dukakis's presidential campaign in 1988, will assist from the Democratic National Committee.
James Carville, a commentator and former Clinton strategist, said he told senior Kerry aides that they badly needed "someone who can drive a communications message." Describing what he called the campaign's sluggish responses and muddled message, Carville said, "They're a perpetual committee listening to a perpetual focus group, and it's got to change."