Bush Fight Begins On the Internet

George W. Bush began advertising for his re-election last week with this initial strategy: Hit John Kerry, and do it in a viral way.

On Thursday, the Bush team sent a brief note to the 6 million people on its e-mail list. With a link, it directed them to a Web video, titled “Unprincipled, Chapter I,” that attacks Kerry, the Democratic front-runner, for accepting “millions from executives at HMOs, telecoms [and] drug companies.”

Mark McKinnon, Bush’s media and advertising director, said the idea is to begin energizing Bush’s core supporters following months of attacks on the president. “John Kerry has now aired 27 campaign ads, and 56 percent have directly attacked the president on issues including special interests, which we found to be incredibly hypocritical,” McKinnon said.

But supporters are not the only target. The Bush campaign believes the viral nature of e-mail will take the message far beyond its 6 million names. “We like this Web-based strategy,” McKinnon said. “[The recipients] push to other people, and it has a real ripple effect. Ultimately, undecided voters are going to discover the hypocrisy of Senator Kerry, and it will have a big impact.”

The Kerry campaign did not return calls by press time.

Brian Reich, a Democratic strategist who worked for Al Gore in the 2000 campaign, suggested Bush’s dropping poll numbers may have spurred him to attack this early. But he applauded the “simplicity” of the strategy. “A campaign that has more than $100 million in the bank can run national TV ads or fly around the country and yell at John Kerry,” Reich said. “Instead, they send an e-mail to their Republican network. That says, ‘We are going to let our grassroots network be our force.’ “