Kerry Ad Looks To Leverage Momentum From Convention

Hours after John Kerry accepted the Democratic nomination for president, members of the Democratic National Committee and two media consultants holed up in a production house in Boston to cut a television commercial.

Titled “Strength,” the 30-second spot features footage of Kerry’s acceptance speech at the party’s recent national convention and focuses on the commitment he would make to safety and security as president. The ad contains several of Kerry’s biggest applause lines, such as “I defended my country as a young man, and I will defend it as president.”

“It seemed like an obvious opportunity to preserve a powerful speech,” said Ellen Moran, independent expenditure director for the DNC. She conceded that the idea for the spot was in the works before Kerry gave his speech.

The commercial ran through the past week in a $6 million buy in 20 states, as well as on cable networks CNN and Fox News. It’s part of the DNC’s effort to keep Kerry’s image and platform in front of the American public, without the campaign tapping into its restricted advertising funds.

Campaign finance laws mandate that both campaigns can only spend $75 million between the time a candidate accepts a party’s nomination and Election Day. Because George Bush will not officially accept his nomination until Sept. 2, the Kerry-Edwards campaign is conserving its funds, leaving the DNC to take up the messaging for the Democrats. Other political interest groups have also stepped in to help Kerry’s cause. The Media Fund has a $2.5 million effort under way in five battleground states, and the New Democratic Network is running Spanish-language ads in 11 cities.

To help with the process, the DNC has enlisted a pair of political media consulting firms—AKP Media & Messaging in Chicago and Murphy Putnam Shorr & Partners in Alexandria, Va.—to craft the message. Both companies have close ties to the Democratic party: AKP worked on John Edwards’ presidential campaign in the primaries, and Murphy Putnam Shorr worked for Richard Gephardt.

And like the party itself, the two consulting firms are making a show of unity against a common Republican entity. “We’ve really melded as a creative team,” said David Axelrod, a partner at AKP. “We split up the assignments and work together to get the thing done.”

Murphy Putnam Shorr executives declined comment for this article.

Rather than tip their hand, however, the Democratic strategists are keeping their plan close to the vest. But it’s likely the ads will follow the same themes outlined in Kerry’s acceptance speech: security, the economy and trust.

“Some of it will be dictated by the events of the moment, as [‘Strength’] was,” Axelrod said. “You’ll see a variety of things. This is a dynamic process, and advertising is part of that.”

Axelrod said the ads would look to uphold Kerry’s challenge to President Bush to run a positive campaign that is focused on issues and the qualities of each candidate to handle them. “I think Americans are willing to hear criticism, but they want it to be fair criticism,” Axelrod explained. “They’re not interested in seeing gratuitous attacks, and we’re not interested in doing them.”

Though the Democrats think their plan will help keep Kerry’s message and visage in front of the American public without tapping into his war chest, they do cede one big advantage to the Republican ticket, which can spend with impunity until Bush accepts the nomination.

“There’s a disadvantage in the fact that we can’t coordinate with the campaign,” Axelrod said. “We have to make our own best guess as to how to best support the ticket.”