Bush TV Salvo Stirs Controversy

WASHINGTON, D.C. The Bush campaign’s first three TV spots, which debuted on Thursday, focus on the challenges the country has faced over the past three years and how George W. Bush has been a “steady” leader.

The effort has generated controversy, however, for using footage from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York. The Bush campaign has defended its use of the imagery as appropriate.

One 60-second spot, called “Lead,” was filmed at the White House on Feb. 9, and features both the president and First Lady Laura Bush. In the spot, Bush says, “One of the things that must never change is the entrepreneurial spirit of America.” Then Laura Bush says, “The strength, the focus, the characteristics that these times demand.” Stock photos of a small business to a teacher in a classroom are shown. “As the economy grows, the job base grows and somebody who’s looking for work will be more likely to find a job,” the president says. “I know exactly where I want to lead this country; I know what we need to do to make the world more free and more peaceful.”

Another 30-second spot, “Safer, Stronger,” spells out the challenges the country has faced. Images of the challenges appear as the type reads, “January 2001: The challenge: An economy in recession. A stock market in decline. A dot.com boom gone bust. Then a day of tragedy. A test for all Americans. Today, America is turning the corner. Rising to the challenge. Safer, stronger.” The tagline, “Steady leadership in times of change,” closes the spot. A Spanish version of the same spot was also produced.

In the final spot, “Tested,” a voiceover says, “The last few years have tested America in many ways. Some challenges we’ve seen before. And some were like no others. But America rose to the challenge. What sees us through tough times? Freedom, faith, families, and sacrifice.”

The ads appear as recent polls show a decline in President Bush’s popularity and Sen. John Kerry locks up the Democratic nomination. The work will air on national cable and in spot markets in 17 states like Florida, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, which were decided by five percent of the vote or less in 2000. Bush officials declined to disclose the exact markets where the ads will appear or how much was spent on the media buy.

At a press event at Bush/Cheney ‘O4 headquarters in Arlington, Va., on Wednesday, Bush’s chief strategist, Matthew Dowd, said the campaign expects to remain even or “slightly behind” Kerry in the polls up to the Republican convention this summer. “This campaign will not adjust with these ads,” Dowd said. “This is the beginning of a process.”

Mark McKinnon, Bush’s director of media and advertising, said President Bush first discussed his ideas for the ads with his media team. “The president sat down with us and said, ‘Here’s what I think the election is about,'” McKinnon said. “In the first ad, ‘Lead,’ that’s all his own unscripted dialogue.”

The Bush campaign is also developing a series of “contrast” spots that will depict Kerry as a liberal politician who has had an inconsistent voting record [Adweek, March 1]. Bush officials declined to say when those ads might air.

This story updates an item posted on Mar. 3 with details of the ads’ controversy.