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Kerry Taking Offensive in Latest Ads; Bush Firing Back

Times Staff Writer

Sen. John F. Kerry began a television counteroffensive against President Bush on Wednesday with two meet-the-candidate commercials in which he pledged to seek more international help in Iraq, keep America secure and focus on jobs and healthcare.

Bush is firing back today with a new advertisement on cable TV stations that calls Kerry more liberal than two of his famous Democratic Senate colleagues: Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

The dueling ads illustrate the intensifying effort to define Kerry for voters who have not yet formed strong impressions of him. They come in the wake of new polls showing Bush edging ahead in the presidential race.

The Bush campaign recently cut back on a massive ad barrage that depicted Kerry as soft on national defense, a flip-flopper on key issues and a tax-and-spend liberal. To counter such charges, Kerry’s new ads spotlight his agenda.

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In one, titled “Commitment,” the presumptive Democratic nominee speaks in a room with a U.S. flag visible behind his right shoulder. Kerry looks into the camera and says: “As president, I’ll set a few clear national priorities for America. First, we will keep this country safe and secure. Second, I’ll put an end to tax incentives that encourage American companies to ship jobs overseas. And third, we’ll invest in education and healthcare.”

The ad’s no-frills style reflects one of the largest challenges facing Kerry. The Massachusetts senator must introduce himself to many voters and persuade them of the firmness of his convictions as he runs against a blunt-spoken president whom Republicans tout as a steady and visionary leader.

Kerry’s new 30-second spots are running in 17 states that both parties have targeted this year as the most closely contested. California, a Democratic stronghold, is not among them.

Kerry aides refused to disclose the cost of the ad purchase, but they said it was his largest so far in the campaign. Independent TV ad monitors estimate it to be at least a few million dollars per week.

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Kerry is tapping money from a recent fundraising spree that garnered more than $50 million in the first three months of the year and millions more this month.

Kerry campaigned Wednesday in Louisiana, a state that has gone back and forth between the two parties in recent presidential elections. It was the second day of a tour of the South to stress environmental issues.

In Shell Beach, about 20 miles southeast of New Orleans, Kerry took a skiff ride across a shipping channel to observe erosion that is rapidly submerging the Mississippi Delta coastline. He accused Bush of shortchanging coastal restoration funding and proposed increasing federal aid for state and local conservation efforts.

In his other new TV ad, “Risk,” Kerry responds to Bush’s charge that he is unclear about what he would do in Iraq. Kerry voted in 2002 for the congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq but has since accused the president of botching prewar diplomacy and failing to plan for a lengthy occupation.

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As Democrats were growing more critical of the war during their primary season, Kerry voted last year against an $87-billion bill to fund military operations and reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan. Republicans say that vote shows Kerry lacks an adequate commitment to U.S. troops and is an example of a flip-flop.

“Let me tell you exactly what I would do to change the situation in Iraq,” Kerry says in the ad. “I would immediately reach out to the international community in sharing the burden, the risk, because they also have a stake in the outcome of what is happening in Iraq.”

Kerry also jabs at the administration over the mounting cost of invading and occupying Iraq. “The American taxpayer is paying now almost $200 billion and who knows how many more billions,” he says, “and we’re paying the highest price in the loss of lives of our young soldiers, almost alone.”

In a conference call with reporters, a Kerry aide likened the early stages of the campaign’s ad wars to a swordfight, with Bush attacking and Kerry parrying in the weeks after the Democrat effectively clinched his party’s nomination in early March.

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That dynamic, the aide said, is now reversed. “We have now begun our thrust,” the aide said.

The Bush campaign last week decreased its TV and radio ad purchases after having spent more than $40 million on commercials in March alone, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The new Bush ad aimed at Kerry is titled “Doublespeak.” It quotes editorials from three newspapers: the Wall Street Journal, which criticizes his tax policy; the Washington Post, which questions his position on Iraq; and the Union Leader of Manchester, N.H., which accuses him of waffling on education reform.

It also quotes one of Kerry’s hometown newspapers, the Boston Herald, as saying, “John Kerry is engaging in a level of doublespeak that makes most voters wince.”

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The Bush ad notes that the National Journal, a nonpartisan, Washington-based magazine that covers government and politics, rated Kerry the most liberal Senate member in 2003, based on his voting record.

Bush’s ad says the rating shows Kerry is “more liberal than Hillary Clinton or Ted Kennedy.”

“John Kerry says, ‘A lot of people don’t really know who I am,’ ” the ad says. “Well, actually, a lot of people do.”

Kerry officials say the rating is misleading because campaign travel forced him to miss many votes last year. They cited a variety of positions he took over the years as evidence of centrist credentials, such as his support for a deficit-reduction act in 1985.Larry J. Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, predicted that ad would make a deeper impression on voters than Kerry’s ads about his agenda. “It’s the negatives that will drive this polarized election.”

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Of Kerry’s promise to focus on jobs and healthcare, he said: “Ads like that are vaguely reassuring but not remembered for 10 minutes after the viewing. It’s just: ‘I’m John Kerry, I approve this message. I’m for motherhood and apple pie, and I like cherry pie too.’ ”

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Times staff writer James Rainey contributed to this report from the Kerry campaign in Louisiana.


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