John Kerry (search) and his allies are intensifying their efforts to reach out to blacks and Hispanics with waves of new advertisements meant to energize two groups that historically side with the Democratic Party.
The ads, running mostly in inner cities of swing states that are home to large numbers of minorities, seek to portray Kerry as a champion of blacks and Hispanics while arguing that President Bush has done little for both groups. The Republican's campaign disputes the charge.
"One out of every three Latinos in this country lives without medical insurance," says a Spanish-language spot Kerry's campaign started running Wednesday in Nevada, New Mexico and Florida. "John Kerry wants all children to have access to health insurance."
A radio commercial by the Democratic National Committee (search) running on black stations in five states argues that under Bush more blacks lack health insurance and live in poverty.
That loyal Democratic constituency must turn out at voting booths for Kerry on Nov. 2 if the senator is to wipe away Bush's lead in the polls. Historically, Democratic candidates have garnered a larger share of the Hispanic vote, but Republicans have chipped away at the margin in recent years. And, Bush has made a multimillion-dollar play for their votes with his own ads.
"The first thing the Democrats have to do is secure their base because without their base, they're doomed," said Mary Stuckey, a communications professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
The spots also are intended to answer commercials by Republican-funded groups that Democrats claim are meant to keep minority voters at home. Such ads have little money behind them but are highly controversial and designed to pack a punch with a particular audience.
A conservative group in Kansas, Americas PAC in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, is running ads on black and Hispanic radio stations in five states, criticizing Democrats on everything from tax cuts to abortion.
"Democrats say they want our votes. Why don't they want our children?" one of the ads says. "Don't buy the Democratic lie. Killing unborn babies is no way to help those in poverty." The spot is nearly identical to one run on black radio stations in 2002 by another Kansas group, the Council for Better Government.
Americas PAC spokeswoman Carol Coe said the ad, which claims abortion costs "our community" 400,000 lives each year, deals with "the leading cause of death in our community."
Another group, People of Color United of Washington, D.C., has run commercials on black radio stations and in newspapers calling Kerry "rich, white and wishy-washy" and criticizing his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, for highlighting her African roots as a native of the continent. The group is preparing more radio ads for black stations in key markets.
Countering those spots, the Media Fund, a group of Democratic insiders founded by former Clinton aide Harold Ickes, is launching what it says will be a $5 million campaign aimed at blacks between ages 18 and 35.
Its ads tell blacks "don't keep getting played" by Bush. And one radio spot refers to People of Color United, claiming that "Republicans want you to sit out this election and simply stay home. Who are they fooling?"
Meanwhile, the DNC has launched its own minority ads in recent weeks, with a radio spot saying "for 20 years, John Kerry has fought for civil rights, economic opportunity and fairness," and a TV ad in five states imploring Hispanics to "vote for a change."
New radio ads targeting Hispanics are upcoming from Kerry's campaign.
"Democrats are doing more earlier than they ever have before," said Erik Smith, head of the Media Fund. "It shows an entirely different commitment."
Four years ago, the Democratic Party faced criticism that it didn't do enough to court minorities. This year, Democrats went up on the air with ads directed at those constituencies months ago, far earlier than before.
On the Hispanic side, the efforts were led by the New Democrat Network, which has pumped several million dollars into Spanish-language ads since December in media markets in seven states with high concentrations of Hispanics.