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Bloomberg Taps Dems

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The muscle behind the television commercials Michael Bloomberg is using to launch his Repub lican New York City mayoral campaign last week is Squier Knapp Dunn, the Washington political consultants who worked on Al Gore's bid for the White House, sources said.

While switching parties may be in vogue right now after last month's decision by Sen. James Jeffords to leave the GOP, hiring Democratic consultants to work on Republican campaigns is still considered unusual.

Bill Knapp, part of a triumvirate of Gore political advisers that also included Carter Eskew and Robert Shrum, referred all calls to Bloom berg's campaign, which did not return calls.

Advertising experts and political consultants said hiring a Democratic firm to handle ads is a shrewd move by Bloomberg, who switched to the Republican party last year.

"The upside potentially for Bloom berg is a Democratic political-consulting firm would have a better intuitive idea of how to speak to the overwhelmingly Democratic voters in New York," said one Republican political consultant.

The risk of alienating large Republican donors who might be offended by the hiring of a Demo-cratic firm may not matter because Bloomberg has deep pockets.

Announcing his candidacy by imme diately airing two spots (one in English, one in Spanish), rather than at a rally or press conference, for example, suggests that Bloomberg will spend a significant amount of money on his campaign, experts say. That figure could be $25 million, sources said.

In the English-language spot, which ran on local TV stations, Bloom berg stares straight at the camera as street traffic goes by. The style is reminiscent of the countless talking heads viewers became familiar with in the race between Gore and George W. Bush.

"My name is Mike Bloomberg, and I'm running for mayor to build on what's been accomplished, not tear it down," he says in the 60-second ad.

"Going back to politics as usual in New York City is crazy," he con tinues. "Together, we'll keep making pro gress on crime. And if we bring the same energy and same focus that made our streets safer and use it to improve public schools and public healthcare, this great city will be even better."

Advertising and political experts said viewers can expect a media barrage from Bloomberg that is similar to the one employed by Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J, although Corzine spent $65 million on his campaign.

"If Bloomberg is going to win a low-voter-turnout primary against [opponent Herman] Badillo, he better spend a lot of money on advertising," said Tom Messner, partner at Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmet terer/Euro RSCG, who worked on George H.W. Bush's campaign in 1988.

Ellis Verdi, president of DeVito/ Verdi, and an adviser to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign, considers Bloomberg's wealth an asset, but cautions that spending heavily on ads that only use a stand-up-presenter format could work against him.

As for the ad itself, Verdi says: "It's a very cheap spot for a wealthy guy. For someone who's not a politician, he has sure made himself sound like one."

On a positive note, "[Bloomberg] is first and foremost using his greatest strength, which is his ability to spend money on advertising," Verdi said. "At the same time, he is controlling the debate and allowing himself to be somewhat bulletproof until he can comfortably debate the issues."

In the Republican primary, Bloom berg must defeat Badillo, who was the first Puerto Rican congressman. Badillo, a former Demo crat who also switched parties, also announced his candi dacy last week.