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Bush Ads Go Negative; Kerry Strikes Back

March 11, 2004

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush unleashed the first negative ads of the general election campaign Thursday, accusing Democratic rival John Kerry of seeking to raise taxes by $900 billion and wanting to ``delay defending America.″

``John Kerry: Wrong on taxes. Wrong on defense,″ says an announcer in a new 30-second ad that will begin airing in battleground states.

Kerry’s campaign, calling the $900 billion figure ``completely made up,″ prepared a response ad titled, ``Misleading America″ to accuse Bush of distorting the Democrat’s record. It also touts Kerry’s middle-class tax cut plans, campaign officials said on condition of anonymity.

A second Bush ad tells voters they face choices on the economy, health care and the war on terrorism. ``We can go forward with confidence, resolve and hope. Or we can turn back to the dangerous illusions that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat,″ Bush says in the second ad, without mentioning Kerry by name.

The Bush ads, unveiled Thursday, will begin airing in 18 states Friday along with radio ads that make the same high-taxes, soft-on-terorrism argument against Kerry. They are the second wave of a multimillion-dollar ad campaign that is designed, through focus groups and polls, to shift voters’ attention from Bush’s weaknesses to strengths _ from talk of joblessness in an ailing economy to a debate over Democratic tax hikes; and on terrorism, from violence-torn Iraq to reminders of his leadership on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Democrat’s response ad will air in some of the same states, but advisers said they were unsure how many and how much airtime Kerry could afford to buy.

The Massachusetts senator has raised $7 million on the Internet since cementing the nomination March 2, but he would have to spend most of that to match the $6 million Bush has spent on broadcast ads alone in his first week on the air. That doesn’t include the more than $4.5 million Bush is spending on national cable networks through May.

Meeting with congressional Democrats on Capitol Hill, Kerry dismissed the ads, saying they fail to focus on health care, jobs, education, the environment and a safe America. ``They can’t talk about those things because George Bush doesn’t have a record to run on, he has a record to run away from, and that’s what they’re trying to do,″ Kerry said.

The ads are certain to spark debate over negative campaign tactics, as well as Kerry’s record on taxes and terrorism.

The Democratic campaign condemned Bush’s ``attack ad″ and negative politics just a day after Kerry called Republican critics ``the most crooked ... lying group I’ve ever seen.″ That comment, captured without Kerry’s knowledge by a live microphone, prompted Bush adviser Marc Racicot to call on Kerry to apologize ``for this negative attack.″

During the Democratic primary, Kerry ran at least a dozen ads criticizing Bush or his policies.

The drumbeat of attacks from Kerry and other Democrats helped reduce Bush’s poll ratings to their lowest levels of his presidency. Bush is now in a rush to recover, as well as to define Kerry for voters. The next several weeks gives the president a chance to go on the offensive while the nominee-in-waiting is low on money and enlisting the help of former rivals.

Bush’s first round of ads were positive, but their references to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks drew criticism from Democrats and some victims’ relatives who accused Bush of exploiting the tragedy. The White House argued that the terrorist strikes are a major part of Bush’s presidency, thus fair game in the political season.

Bush traveled to New York’s Long Island on Thursday to break ground on a Sept. 11 memorial.

Republicans said they looked forward to wrangling with Kerry over the size of any tax increases he would support. Kerry has never explicitly called for a $900 billion tax hike, but Republicans are basing their case on incomplete arithmetic in his own policies.

Kerry’s plan to reduce health care costs would cost nearly $900 billion over 10 years, according to a study by Emory University economic professor Kenneth Thorpe, who has been cited by Kerry’s campaign and other Democrats as an authoritative source.

The presumptive Democratic nominee has vowed to roll back Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy, saving about $250 billion over 10 years by most estimates. He would keep _ and perhaps enhance _ middle-class tax cuts pushed by Bush.

The Bush campaign argues that there is no way Kerry can implement his plan and hold the line on the federal deficit without hiking taxes by $900 billion. Kerry campaign officials have said they will flesh out his economic plans in the next several weeks.

Economists are divided on whether Kerry’s numbers add up, because details still are slim. Thorpe said Thursday he believes Kerry can come up with enough federal dollars through repealing tax cuts for the wealthy to pay for his proposals for health care, education and other initiatives, provided the new programs are phased in.

The National Taxpayers Union, on the other hand, calculates that Kerry’s spending initiatives total $277 billion a year, far more than could be paid for by repealing some of the tax cuts.

Bush’s toughest ad, titled ``100 days,″ alludes to Kerry’s desire to get United Nations approval before invading Iraq and notes his opposition to the Patriot Act. Bush says at the start of the ad that he approved the message.


Associated Press writer Mike Glover contributed to this report.

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