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Presidential TV Ad Battle Heating Up

Times Staff Writer

The political battle of the airwaves is intensifying, with President Bush about to launch commercials heaping fresh criticism on Sen. John F. Kerry’s anti-terrorism credentials.

Kerry, meanwhile, plans a shift in his advertising message, according to a published report, switching from commercials that tell his life story to spots focusing on political issues.

Also, several conservative and liberal interest groups are financing new partisan messages in critical television markets.

The Bush campaign on Friday confirmed that the president’s latest assault on the presumed Democratic presidential challenger would be a 30-second ad that claims Kerry was “pressured by fellow liberals” to change his position on the USA Patriot Act.

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That law, passed with backing from Kerry and 97 other senators just weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, broadened the federal government’s information-gathering powers.

Amid the ensuing controversy over the law’s impact on civil liberties, Kerry joined other lawmakers in November in proposing a bill that would restrain some of the surveillance and search-warrant powers the Patriot Act grants federal investigators.

His allies in that effort include Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho), the proposed bill’s chief sponsor, and several other Republican senators -- Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John E. Sununu of New Hampshire.

But the new Bush spot, first disclosed Friday in USA Today, apparently makes no mention of the bipartisan unrest over the Patriot Act. Instead, it accuses Kerry of “playing politics with national security.”

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USA Today quoted Matthew Dowd, a top strategist for the Bush campaign, as saying that the ad is “another opportunity for us to say Sen. Kerry is way out on the extreme on his views on the Patriot Act.”

Dowd referred questions from The Times to the Bush campaign press office.

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said: “Kerry didn’t become a cosponsor of the Craig bill until late in 2003, after those on the left had already pushed him to oppose [the Patriot Act].”

Asked about the Republican critics of the anti-terrorism law, Schmidt replied: “There is wide bipartisan consensus for the act.”

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The campaign said the commercial would start airing Tuesday in 19 contested states.

Kerry spokesman Phil Singer said the ad raised questions about the president’s judgment.

“George Bush is so out of touch that his commercials are now attacking positions held by Republicans like Larry Craig and Arlen Specter,” Singer said.

He added: “On this issue, Americans from both sides of the political spectrum are with John Kerry in calling for a better Patriot Act, and George Bush is out of the mainstream.”

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Kerry has been running two 60-second biographical commercials this month that focus on his record as a veteran of the Vietnam War. But The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Kerry strategists are planning new ads that spotlight his policy agenda.

The Kerry campaign declined comment on the report.

Also Friday, the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org announced it would begin airing ads next week that call on Bush to fire Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld over the Iraq prison abuse scandal.

The group distributed an image from the ad that shows the Statue of Liberty wearing a hood, a pointed visual reference to images of hooded prisoners at the now-infamous Abu Ghraib compound in Iraq.

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The conservative Club for Growth plans by the end of next week to unveil a television ad attacking Kerry’s economic record and accusing him of being too quick to raise taxes. Stephen Moore, the group’s president, has set a goal of spending $10 million to $20 million to influence the presidential race.


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