President Bush's campaign today unveiled a television ad that seeks to undermine public confidence in Sen. John Kerry's ability to combat terrorism, using images of menacing wolves prowling through a shadowy forest while a narrator warns: "Weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm."
Kerry's campaign denounced the 30-second Bush ad as a desperate scare tactic designed to obscure the president's record. At the same time, the Democratic National Committee quickly produced its own animal ad, which likens the president to an ostrich with its head in the sand.
"This is kitchen sink time, when you throw everything out there," said Evan Tracey, an analyst at the TNSMI/Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks the television ad wars for The Times. He described Bush's "wolves" ad as "an attempt by the Bush folks to change to the dialogue and push the undecided [voters] by using emotional pictures and words."
The Bush campaign also aired another new ad, in Miami, accusing Kerry of backing the interests of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
The 30-second spot, in Spanish, shows images of Castro and of Kerry as a narrator condemns the Massachusetts senator's vote against a 1996 law, the Helms-Burton Act, which tightened economic sanctions against the island nation at a time of heightened diplomatic tensions between Havana and Washington.
Kerry and the "liberals in Congress," the narrator charges, "don't understand what a dictator is."
The spot, first seen Thursday, sought to tarnish Kerry's standing with the Cuban American community, a key voting bloc in southern Florida.
Kerry was among 22 senators, including four Republicans, who opposed the legislation in March 1996.
With less than two weeks before the elections, Bush today campaigned in the three biggest battleground states: Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.
He visited Ohio today for the first time in nearly three weeks, with his aides deflecting criticism that Bush had neglected the state. They cited scheduling conflicts and a focus on Florida after the hurricanes. Ohio has been hard-hit by the decline in manufacturing jobs during Bush's administration, but he mentioned unemployment only briefly today.
"We're moving forward," he said, citing the state's unemployment rate, which declined to 6% from 6.3% in September.
Kerry, trying to rally support in Milwaukee among working women in particular, said he would give them more support than they receive from the Bush administration. A plan to raise minimum wages, increase education and broaden healthcare would allow women to better care for their families.
But Kerry also accused Bush of using scare tactics in his "wolves" ad to court voters, a sign of desperation, Kerry said.
In the ad, an ominous voice says:
"In an increasingly dangerous world, even after the first terrorist attack on America, John Kerry and the liberals in Congress voted to slash America's intelligence budget by $6 billion. Cuts so deep they would have weakened America's defenses. And weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm."
The ad was made to buttress claims by Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on the campaign trail that America would face greater risk of terrorist attacks if Kerry was elected president.
The ad is scheduled to air on local television affiliates in 14 battleground states and on national cable networks, according to the Bush campaign and the Republican National Committee, which are spending about $15 million on TV commercials this week.
The Kerry campaign today counterattacked by questioning Bush's support for funding for intelligence gathering, claiming that his nominee for CIA director, former Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), had supported even deeper cuts than Kerry, who was among many senators who sought funding cuts for intelligence after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"Instead of giving voters even one good reason to vote for him, George W. Bush has chosen to scare the American people with images of wolves," said Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton. "These are desperate days for the Bush campaign with the president's job approval in the danger zone.
"They are desperately using the politics of fear to try and distract from President Bush's failed record on the economy and Iraq," he said. "But it won't work. This only reminds people that it's time for a fresh start and a new direction in America."
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Times staff writer Maura Reynolds contributed to this report from Ohio, along with Times wire services.