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Kerry’s TV Ad Claims Questioned

Times Staff Writer

Sen. John F. Kerry has claimed twice in recent days that since he effectively claimed the Democratic presidential nomination, he has not run a negative television advertisement against President Bush. But those viewing his ads in March and April could be pardoned for thinking otherwise.

Bush, meantime, has been pounding his challenger on the airwaves at a rate rarely seen for a president seeking reelection, according to a study released Wednesday by University of Missouri researchers. The study showed that more than half of the statements in Bush’s TV ads had been critical of Kerry, while about a third of the statements in the Democrat’s ads had targeted the president.

“Both candidates have made both positive and negative statements in their ads,” said William Benoit, a professor of communications at the university and head of the study. “However, at this point, Bush’s ads contain more attacks.”

That is unusual by historical standards, the study found. In elections over the last 50 years, television ads by challengers typically include more attacks than those paid for by incumbent presidents.

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On Tuesday, Kerry said at a town hall meeting in Cleveland: “My campaign is just beginning. We haven’t run a negative ad on [Bush].” Late last week, Kerry told a conference of newspaper editors in Washington: “I’m going to try and change the discussion and just tell the truth to the American people. I never ran one negative advertisement against my opponents in the primaries, and I haven’t run negative advertising. My advertisements in this race are positive.”

But five of the TV commercials Kerry has aired since he became the presumed Democratic nominee in early March have named and criticized Bush. One ad responded to a Bush attack, another contrasted Bush’s record on jobs with Kerry’s proposals to improve the economy and three criticized Bush on the environment, abortion rights and the economy. That’s not counting several ads assailing Bush financed by liberal groups that operate separately from the Kerry campaign.

Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt said Kerry’s anti-Bush ads did not square with his recent comments. “Just the latest example of John Kerry saying one thing and doing another,” Schmidt said.

Kerry aides did not return calls seeking comment.

Kerry’s two latest ads have not mentioned Bush, focusing instead on the Democrat’s domestic and foreign policy agenda.

The Bush campaign currently is lashing Kerry on the airwaves with a commercials that characterize his record on defense issues as troubling. The ads are being shown on stations in the 17 states the two campaigns are closely contesting and on national cable channels.

Overall, six of Bush’s commercials so far have been direct attacks on Kerry, dissecting the Massachusetts senator’s record on defense and taxes without discussing the president’s views.

“We are communicating in a clear, precise, accurate way facts about John Kerry’s voting record and positions,” Schmidt said, an assertion the Democrat’s camp disputed.

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Benoit said his study parsed all the scripts of the campaign so far, coding statements in them as positive or negative.

“Negative ads are about your opponent and they say negative things,” Benoit said. “They’re very easy to find.”

Historically, he said, about 39% of the statements in presidential campaign commercials he has studied from 1952 to 2000 have been attacks.

He cautioned that his findings on the current campaign could easily be reversed within weeks if Bush resumes some of his positive ads or Kerry goes more on the attack. “There’s a lot more of the campaign to come,” he said.

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Times staff writer Matea Gold contributed to this report.


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