Sen. John F. Kerry took a cue from Sen. John McCain on Tuesday and denounced a television ad by one of his allies attacking President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard.
In the latest twist in an ongoing debate about military credentials, Kerry condemned the new ad by the MoveOn political action committee, even though it was produced in response to an ad questioning Kerry’s Vietnam War record.
“This should be a campaign of issues, not insults,” Kerry said in a written statement.
Kerry called the ad “inappropriate” after McCain (R-Ariz.), a former Vietnam prisoner of war, criticized the MoveOn commercial. The 30-second ad accuses Bush of using family connections to avoid the Vietnam War.
McCain, who is popular with independents, is campaigning for Bush but has come to Kerry’s defense against Republican attacks on the candidate’s military record. He recently criticized an anti-Kerry ad that featured Vietnam veterans as “dishonest” and “dishonorable.”
Although MoveOn, an independent liberal group, came to Kerry’s aid with a counterattack ad, the Democrat said he agreed with McCain that it was over the top.
But the executive director of MoveOn’s political action committee said his group had no plans to pull the spot, which began running Tuesday in three battleground states.
And a Bush campaign spokesman didn’t see Kerry’s action as doing the president any favor, saying the Massachusetts senator’s condemnation of the anti-Bush ad “reeks of hypocrisy.”
During a news conference arranged by the Kerry campaign earlier in the day, some supporters repeated the central allegation in the MoveOn ad -- that Bush used his father’s influence as a congressman to get him into the Texas Air National Guard rather than serve in Vietnam.
“John Kerry condemns the ad on one hand and then his campaign’s surrogates go out and echo the baseless charges that appear in the ad,” said Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt. “It’s typical John Kerry: Say one thing, do another.”
The MoveOn ad features footage of a young Bush in a National Guard uniform, with the announcer saying that Bush “used his father to get into the National Guard.”
The spot also criticizes the president for failing to condemn the ad attacking Kerry, “a man who asked to go to Vietnam.”
The MoveOn ad was produced in response to the anti-Kerry ad by a group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The ad featured 13 veterans who served in close proximity to Kerry in Vietnam accusing him of lying about his military service.
The Swift boat group is heavily funded by Robert J. Perry, a Texas homebuilder and big GOP political donor.
The group said it stopped running its anti-Kerry commercial last week after exhausting its $500,000 buy. But Mike Russell, a spokesman for the group, said the ad had generated more than $330,000 in contributions, and the group was examining “whether we’re going to extend the buy ... or do some other things.”
The ad angered the Kerry campaign because the Democratic candidate had made his volunteer service in Vietnam and his combat experience a centerpiece of his campaign to show that he was better equipped to be commander in chief than Bush.
Though the anti-Kerry ad is no longer on the air, Eli Pariser, executive director of the MoveOn PAC, defended his decision to continue the anti-Bush TV spot.
“After refusing to condemn his allies’ baseless attack on Kerry’s war record, we believe the nation has a right to know whether George Bush showed up for service or not,” he said. Pariser contended that it was appropriate to run the ad until the Bush campaign “rejects these kinds of smear campaigns.”
The MoveOn ad is running in the same swing states of Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin as the anti-Kerry ad and on some cable TV stations nationally. The ad buy is about $200,000.
Earlier Tuesday, a group of Kerry supporters, including retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark and some of Kerry’s Navy crewmates, condemned the anti-Kerry ad and called on Bush to disavow it.
The president has not denounced the ad, but in an interview on “Larry King Live” last week, he called Kerry’s military service “noble.” Bush campaign officials said the president had called for the end to all ads by “soft-money” groups -- those not directly involved with the respective campaigns.
“The president has made clear that the campaign has never questioned John Kerry’s military service and never will,” Schmidt said.
Retired Navy Adm. Stansfield Turner, a former CIA director who attended the Kerry campaign news conference, said of Kerry and Bush: “One of them saw combat.... One of them used his father’s influence to get into the Air National Guard to avoid going to war.”
Among those condemning the anti-Kerry ad was Fred Short, a gunner’s mate and a member of Kerry’s crew, who said: “If it wasn’t for John Kerry, my name would be on a wall.”
McCain’s denunciation of the ad was posted prominently at the Kerry campaign news conference. The campaign also handed out an inch-thick book featuring a picture of a young Kerry in Navy uniform on its cover and containing the candidate’s military records.
Neil Berch, a political scientist at West Virginia University, said he did not expect the anti-Kerry ad to carry too much weight in his state. In the end, he said, voters would “go with the guys who were on the boat with Kerry.”