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Bush, Forbes Plan Millions on Ads

October 4, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ George W. Bush plans to spend up to $20 million on an issue-driven ad campaign in the early Republican primaries, hoping to blunt expected attacks from wealthy rival Steve Forbes.

Forbes is expected to spend at least as much to draw a ``sharp contrast″ between himself and Bush _ the two-term Texas governor and GOP front-runner.

Top advisers with both campaigns outlined the ad strategies Monday, revealing plans to spend more money on television ads than their GOP rivals will manage to raise altogether.

The brewing ad war reflects the huge money gap separating Bush and Forbes from the rest of the eight-person GOP field. It also signals Bush’s plans to win the nomination and invest his record-shattering fund-raising warchest in the general election.

``I plan to spend (campaign money) in a way that will help me get the nomination and then, should I be the nominee, I’m not going to let happen to me what happened to Bob Dole and get defined between the primary season and the convention,″ Bush said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Dole won the 1996 Republican nomination, but his campaign was out of cash and unable to respond to negative ads run by Democrats. ``First thing is first _ win the nomination,″ Bush said.

To that end, the Bush team is testing 13 to 15 potential ads in focus groups. Most of them feature the candidate looking directly into the camera, talking about issues such as taxes, education, defense policy and using charities to help people move from welfare to work.

The initial ads will begin airing in three to six weeks in Iowa and New Hampshire, then will begin showing up in other key states as their primaries draw closer. With his budget divided into stages, Bush plans to spend between $15 million and $20 million on the first batch of election contests _ between Iowa’s caucuses and March 7, when more than a dozen primaries will be held on a single day.

The rest of his primary budget was not revealed by advisers.

Forbes’ campaign entered the ad fray first, announcing in June that the wealthy conservative would air $10 million worth of ads over the summer. However, he spent only $4.2 million, campaign officials said, attributing the difference to a weaker-than-expected field of conservative candidates.

The summer ads focused on issues, not Bush. That will change, according to Forbes campaign manager Bill Dal Col.

``It’s clear that any issue advocacy we do would show the sharp contrast between Steve Forbes’ conservative platform and George Bush’s moderate mush,″ Dal Col said.

Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker replied, ``I’m sure the American people hope that ‘sharp contrast’ is not just a nice way of saying ’negative ads.‴

The Bush team, armed with research of Forbes’ 1996 failed presidential bid to defeat Dole, is prepared to label him a negative campaigner. They hope voters make Forbes pay the price for criticizing Bush.

The Texas governor has raised more than $56 million, more than seven times as much as his nearest rival. Forbes is dipping into his personal fortune to pay for most of his campaign. Unlike their GOP rivals, Bush and Forbes have rejected federal matching funds for their campaigns and do not have to abide by strict spending limits.

Working with a fraction of the Bush and Forbes bankrolls, rivals such as Elizabeth Dole and Sen. John McCain of Arizona hope voters’ reject both big-money candidates.

Dole, wife of the 1996 nominee, does not plan to hit the air before mid-December and will start in Iowa, with ads soon to follow in New Hampshire.

``We are positioning ourselves to be the principle alternative to George W. Bush. It’s not clear whether we’ll do differentiation or issue- definition in our ads, but one thing she’s committed to is not running a negative campaign,″ said Dole campaign spokeswoman Kathleen Harrington.

The ad budget, she said, will depend on Dole’s fund-raising success closing out the year.

McCain’s team has considered buying ads late this year to focus on his war hero biography.

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