Bush Campaign Ad Makes Sport of Kerry’s Recreation Choices

Times Staff Writer

Amid this week’s campaign clashes over the U.S. mission in Iraq and reports of beheadings of American civilians, President Bush turned Wednesday to a novel image to attack Sen. John F. Kerry: windsurfing.

In a 30-second advertisement to debut today, Bush lampoons one of his Democratic challenger’s favorite recreational pastimes while attacking him as indecisive on Iraq and other matters.

The spot includes footage of Kerry windsurfing off Nantucket Island, showing the Massachusetts Democrat sailing back and forth to the strains of the “Blue Danube Waltz” by Johann Strauss.


“John Kerry,” the ad says, citing what it calls shifting positions on Iraq, education and healthcare. “Whichever way the wind blows.”

Hours after the Bush campaign unveiled the ad, Kerry fired back with his own commercial, chiding the president for making light of a war that had claimed more than 1,000 American lives.

“In the face of the Iraq quagmire,” the Kerry ad says, “George Bush’s answer is to run a juvenile and tasteless attack ad.”

Also Wednesday, anti-Bush and anti-Kerry groups were stepping up their advertising.

The group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth launched an ad in Pennsylvania and elsewhere that likened Kerry’s anti-Vietnam War activities in the early 1970s to actress Jane Fonda’s controversial visit to Hanoi around the same time.

The group said it would spend $1.3 million on the ad, which specifically attacked a meeting Kerry held with a Vietnamese peace negotiator in France after he left Vietnam.

“In a time of war, can America trust a man who betrayed his country?” the ad asks.

The Kerry camp called the ad “trash.” Kerry, who served in the Navy in Vietnam and was decorated for his combat actions, has described the Paris visit as a fact-finding trip. He mentioned it in his Senate testimony against the war in April 1971.

Meanwhile, the group Texans for Truth unveiled an ad attacking Bush’s National Guard record during the Vietnam War. “George Bush walked away from his duty to the nation and to the National Guard,” the ad says.

Bush, who flew jets for the Texas Air National Guard during the war but did not serve in Vietnam, received an honorable discharge in October 1973. He was granted an exit from the Guard several months before the term of his enlistment was up so he could attend Harvard Business School. Critics say Bush has failed to prove that he fulfilled his duties for several months in 1972 and 1973 when he was assigned to an Air National Guard base in Alabama.

The Bush campaign called the ad “completely baseless and untrue.”

While independent ads are proliferating in the campaign’s final weeks, the Bush and Kerry commercials are at the center of the showdown.

The candidates are raining ads into more than a dozen battleground states. However, Kerry ads now are not being shown in some states his campaign previously targeted, including Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri. Democratic strategists say Kerry would be wasting money in those Bush-leaning states.

Previously, independent anti-Kerry groups had mocked Kerry with commercials that showed him on skis or showed pictures of a family yacht. One group this week aired an ad with a cartoon rendition of Kerry windsurfing. But Bush had not picked on Kerry’s windsurfing -- or any of his recreational activities -- until now.

A Bush aide said the windsurfing footage was lifted from a “photo op” of Kerry when he was staying at his Nantucket family retreat during the Republican National Convention.

Kerry has windsurfed several times this year at Nantucket; he also likes kite-surfing. Images of him wearing sunglasses and pursuing water sports have made some Democrats cringe and have become grist for late-night comedy shows.

A Democratic strategist in Kansas City, Mo., noted that Nantucket sporting activities didn’t necessarily resonate in the Midwest. “I don’t see a lot of people windsurfing on the Missouri or the Mississippi [rivers] on the weekend -- let’s put it that way,” said Woody Overton, who ran Al Gore’s Missouri presidential campaign in 2000. “It’s not something Missourians can relate to.”

Kerry aides have debated privately the merits of having the candidate windsurf in front of the national media, aware that Republicans have gleefully seized on the activity as evidence of Kerry’s wealthy lifestyle.

In its substance, the Bush ad echoes previous Republican criticism of Kerry.

“In which direction would John Kerry lead?” the ad asks. “Kerry voted for the Iraq war, opposed it, supported it, and now opposes it again. He bragged about voting for the $87 billion to support our troops before he voted against it.”

On Iraq, the ad seeks to describe Kerry’s vote for an October 2002 resolution to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein as a blanket endorsement of Bush’s subsequent decision to invade.

Kerry says that is not the case, arguing that his vote was meant to give Bush diplomatic leverage and that events have shown the war to be a mistake. Kerry says his vote against the funding bill was to protest Bush’s Iraq policy, not to abandon the troops.

Kerry aides said the new ad showed Bush to be tone-deaf to the worsening situation in Iraq. Kerry advisor Mike McCurry said the ad “shows a disturbing disregard for those fighting and sacrificing in Iraq.”

Bush campaign advisor Karen Hughes said the windsurfing ad was “a lighthearted way of making a very serious point. [Kerry] may have a case of selective amnesia when it comes to some of the things he’s said.”

Kerry was asked about his favorite sports Wednesday by a student reporter for an elementary school in West Palm Beach, Fla. Spencer Snitil, 11, who interviewed the candidate for the school’s television station, said Kerry named bicycling, hiking and soccer. Apparently, there was no mention of windsurfing.

Times staff writers Matea Gold and Maura Reynolds contributed to this report.