Democrats and Republicans are going for the throat in the final weeks of the campaign.

Striking a negative and personal tone, political operatives supporting John F. Kerry and President Bush, but not working on the campaign payrolls, are planning to flood television and radio stations with hard-hitting attack ads to try to sway voters in swing states.

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which says it has raised more than $13 million for its anti-Kerry campaign, much of it from small donors, is planning one final ad featuring more Vietnam veterans criticizing the Democratic nominee's military service and honesty, says one official with the group.

The Progress for America Voter Fund, which is partly financed by some of Bush's biggest donors, has raised more than $30 million. One of its ads suggests Kerry can't defend against terrorists "who want to kill us." It shows images of Osama bin Laden and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently reported that the group has laid down nearly $2 million for the final month in Wisconsin alone, according to a survey of television stations in the state.

Not to be outdone, the Media Fund, a well-financed Democratic group, is emptying the final $6.5 million from its bank account and spending it all on one hard-hitting television ad accusing Bush of being cozy with the Saudi royal family. It will air in Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio. "I realize this sounds breathless, but, in short, these are perhaps the most powerful, effective ads ever tested," the Media Fund's Jim Jordan says.

The cultural war will heat up, too. Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer is raising money to continue an ad campaign in Michigan and Pennsylvania bashing Kerry as "too liberal" on same-sex marriage; at the same time, Focus on the Family, a socially conservative group, is running 30-minute public service announcements on scores of Hispanic radio and television stations telling Americans to vote their values when it comes to abortion and same-sex marriage. "This is evangelical outreach to Hispanics," says group spokeswoman Kristi Hamrick.

The Service Employees International Union is planning to run Spanish-language television ads on the minimum wage, health care and jobs starting Monday in Florida's three biggest markets. The union says it spent $65 million on this election, almost all of it to pay and train Democrats to get Democrats to the polls.

Finding Religion

In a last-minute bid for religious-minded voters, Kerry is planning a post-third-debate speech to discuss his faith and values and how both guide his political positions. Aides say Kerry will shy away from a detailed discussion of his Catholicism but talk in more detail than he has about his faith.

The Democratic National Committee is laying the groundwork for the speech: It created a new Web link discussing Kerry's values and how the Democratic ticket is "inspired by its own religious traditions." The link (www.democrats.org/values) provides a downloadable chart contrasting Kerry's values with Bush's and encourages voters to disseminate it.

Kerry, too, signaled a willingness in Friday night's debate to talk about his faith, telling an audience member who asked a question about abortion: "First of all, I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins. I'm a Catholic, raised a Catholic. I was an altar boy. Religion has been a huge part of my life. It helped lead me through a war, leads me today."

Scare Tactics Work

Less than one month after Kerry threw out the suggestion that Bush might reinstate the military draft, a new poll shows nearly half of younger voters swallowed the Democratic nominee's bait, hook, line and sinker.

The University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election survey found about 50 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds believe Bush will bring back the compulsory draft. It also found this group is often clueless about the candidate's views. "Young voters are much more misinformed about the presidential candidates' positions on the draft than the population in general," said Kate Kenski, a senior analyst for the group. Bush has repeatedly denied he would reinstitute the draft.

Quotable

"I have never, ever used the harshest word, as you just did then. . . . And I try not to."

-- John F. Kerry, when asked in the first debate whether Bush is a liar.

"George Bush lost the debate. Now he's lying about it."

-- A new Kerry ad less than 48 hours later.