Following weeks of Democratic criticism and recent polls showing a decline in President Bush's popularity, the Bush campaign will break several 30- and 60-second upbeat spots this week that position the president as a steady leader in turbulent times.
The TV ad blitz will debut March 4, the Bush campaign said, and will run on national cable and spot markets in 17 battleground states such as Florida, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, which were decided by 5 percent of the vote or less in 2000. Last week, the campaign started calling TV stations about buying media time, the campaign confirmed.
Sources said the tagline that will appear in the Bush advertising is, "Steady leadership in times of change."
"We will launch our advertising campaign with a positive message focused on the president's record and vision for moving the country forward," said Sharon Castillo, a Bush campaign representative.
While the Bush campaign has said it would start campaigning in earnest once a Democratic front-runner emerged, the plans were accelerated by weeks of criticism by Democrats and declining poll numbers. A recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll conducted Feb. 16-17 showed that if the election were held now, Democratic front-runner Sen. John Kerry would beat Bush 55 percent to 43 percent among likely voters.
Mark McKinnon, the Bush campaign's director of media and advertising, said the spots will focus on the president and "where we are today in America. We will be talking about our record and where we want to go," McKinnon said.
Sources said this week's spots will discuss the economy and winning the war on terror, two themes Bush addressed in remarks made before the Republican Governor's Association Feb. 25.
"Come November, the voters are going to have a very clear choice," Bush said in his speech. "It's a choice between keeping the tax relief that is moving this economy forward —or putting the burden of higher taxes back on the American people. It's a choice between an America that leads the world with strength and confidence—or an America that is uncertain in the face of danger."
Kerry responded by saying in a statement that "the U.S. has lost 3 million jobs since Bush came into office."
Meanwhile, the campaign of Sen. John Edwards, who will have to win in at least two states on Super Tuesday, criticized the upcoming Bush ads. "An ad campaign is not going to create more jobs, make healthcare more affordable or make our country more secure," an Edwards rep said. "That is what our country needs from its president, not more Hollywood productions."
Sources said the Bush campaign is also developing spots that will depict Kerry as a liberal politician with an inconsistent voting record. McKinnon declined to discuss specifics, but said the Kerry spots would "contrast the president's record and vision with Kerry's record and vision."
"Americans know very little about John Kerry," McKinnon said, "and they will learn throughout this campaign that his record is inconsistent, and that it is wrong on taxes and foreign policy, and wrong for America."
Tom Messner, a partner at Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners who worked on Ronald Reagan's 1984 campaign, said that historically, incumbent presidents benefited from ads that were either extremely positive—like the Reagan 1984 campaign—or extremely negative, like Bill Clinton's 1996 campaign.
"I think [the Bush campaign is] trying to do a mixture and historically, it has not been done successfully for incumbents," Messner said. "I think they have to move the polls to break the momentum that Kerry is building."
McKinnon noted that in Reagan's campaign, 18 out of 50 spots focused on Walter Mondale: "As every successful campaign does, the Reagan campaign made clear the contrast between the president and his opponent."