Kerry Eyes Opening In South

After taking his advertising beyond the swing states into Colorado and Louisiana, John Kerry has his eye on other traditional Republican strongholds where he thinks George Bush might be vulnerable, his campaign said.

While the Kerry campaign declined to name them, sources said the campaign is considering airing ads in Southern states such as North Carolina, Virginia and possibly even West Virginia, which have a combined 33 electoral votes.

“We are looking for other opportunities to expand the map and look for other states where we can take John Kerry’s message of strength and service and win,” said Kerry rep Chad Clanton. With polls showing Bush’s approval rating dropping and more Americans saying the country is heading in the wrong direction, the Democrats see a chance to move beyond Colorado and Louisiana. So far, Kerry has been able to raise enough money to make such a strategy possible.

Kerry has also made progress in the swing states after rolling out two biographical spots, “Heart” and “Lifetime,” on May 3. The 60-second ads were part of a $25 million ad push in Colorado, Louisiana and the swing states. A study by the National Annenberg Election Survey, released May 26, found Kerry’s standing in the battleground states has improved since he began airing the ads. In 20 states where the vote is expected to be close, the study found 44 percent of respondents now view Kerry favorably, up from 36 percent last month. The survey is based on polling of 800 people from May 17-23.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said it makes sense for Kerry to focus on the South. If Kerry names Sen. John Edwards of South Carolina as his running mate, that would put both Carolinas in play. Virginia is not locked up for the Republicans, as voters in the northern part of the state have played a role in electing Democratic governors, including the current one. And in West Virginia, Bush’s decision to drop tariffs on imported steel has stirred resentment. West Virginia, along with swing states Ohio and Pennsylvania, has suffered severe losses in manufacturing jobs.

“You don’t want to leave the traditional battleground open, but if you have the money [to expand], you take the risk,” Jamieson said. “Kerry has a trump card in his military service, which will resonate in the Carolinas, Virginia and West Virginia. Those states elect people strong on defense.”

Kerry saw an opening in Colorado and Louisiana after campaign polling in early May showed Bush’s re-election and job-performance numbers slipping in those states. The biographical spots were meant to not only define Kerry in the swing states but take advantage of opportunities in Colorado and Louisiana. Jamieson noted that Bush’s record on the environment makes him more vulnerable in Colorado, while the presence of a Democratic governor and U.S. senator in Louisiana helps the Kerry camp.

Bush responded with two spots, “Troops Fog” and “Differences,” which attack Kerry on Iraq and the economy. Bush chief strategist Matthew Dowd said the ads ran for two weeks in Louisiana and are still up in Colorado. “We decided we feel fairly confident about our situation in Louisiana,” Dowd said. “A public opinion poll has us up 19 percent there, and that speaks for itself.”

Dowd said the Bush campaign will continue to air ads in Colorado for the time being. “We may come down in Colorado, but not right now,” he said.

Dowd said Bush will “likely not” follow suit if Kerry chooses to air ads in the Southern states. “If it means taking a dollar out of Florida and Ohio and putting it into North Carolina and Virginia, then more power to them,” Dowd said.

Ken Goldstein, director of the Wisconsin Advertising Project, also said Kerry’s strategy could prove risky. “It is early enough that you can play in some nontraditional states,” Goldstein said. “But it is also dangerous, because every dollar Kerry may spend in one of these Southern states is a dollar he doesn’t spend in the swing states. We don’t know yet if it is smart.”