Taking aim at President Bush's policies on jobs, health insurance and even coal mining, John F. Kerry is using a highly targeted ad blitz to accuse the incumbent of a string of "broken promises."
The spots, unveiled Friday, are tailored to specific swing states Bush is visiting in the wake of the Republican National Convention here. They represent a sharp break with Kerry's mostly positive advertising of the past six months and reflect a new determination on the part of the Democrat's strategists to aggressively challenge Bush's record.
One spot, to air in the Cleveland market, says: "Four years ago, George Bush came to Cleveland promising, 'For a family without health insurance, we must help.' Four years later, 5 million more people without health insurance. Now Bush is back. But around here, we remember Bush's broken promises. America can do better. John Kerry: a real plan to expand health care, including all children."
The president also set a goal of extending health coverage to all children in his convention speech Thursday. The Massachusetts senator's ad makes no mention of the cost of his health care proposal, estimated at $950 billion over 10 years, although the Kerry camp says cost efficiencies would cut about a third off that price tag. Nearly 40 million Americans also lacked health insurance during the Clinton administration.
A Milwaukee ad from the Kerry campaign says that "Wisconsin has lost 84,000 manufacturing jobs" and promises tax cuts for small business. Ads airing in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Erie, Pa., say that "four years later, family incomes are down by $1,500."
And a commercial aimed at coal country takes a different approach: "Four years ago, George Bush came to West Virginia promising 2 billion [dollars] for clean coal technology. Four years later, Bush has broken his promise to invest in coal, and cut $15 million from mine safety. . . . John Kerry will invest $10 billion in clean coal technology over the next decade."
By the Kerry campaign's accounting, Bush has asked Congress for $120 million a year for cleaner coal programs, although that is short of the $200 million a year the administration originally projected. The increased coal funding promised by Kerry, when added to his health care plan and other domestic initiatives, is viewed by some experts as being at odds with his promise to cut the federal deficit in half in four years. Kerry has said he would scale back some of his spending plans if necessary to meet his goal on the deficit.
After a four-day GOP convention whose dominant theme was that Kerry is weak in the war on terrorism, the Democrat's spots all have the same tag line: "Because a stronger America begins at home."
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt dismissed what he called "a pattern of misleading advertisements that John Kerry and his allies have been running for months."
Bush, for his part, is airing three issue-oriented spots in an attempt to build on the domestic proposals he unveiled in his Madison Square Garden address. The ads tick off such topics as Social Security reform, legal reform and flextime for working families.
In one spot, Bush says: "We have come through a lot together. During the next four years, we'll spread ownership and opportunity. We need to make our economy more job friendly to keep American jobs here in America. We must allow small employers to join together to purchase insurance. We must end the junk lawsuits and enact tort reform. We've got to make sure our workers have the skills necessary to fill the jobs of the 21st century."
The current exchanges, with Kerry on the attack and Bush staying positive, amount to a role reversal from the past six months, when the bulk of the president's advertising was aimed at demolishing Kerry's record.
But the respite is expected to be brief amid signs that the fall ad wars could turn into a bitter $100 billion battle, a figure that does not include commercials from independent "527" organizations.