WASHINGTON – With a huge $10.5 million downpayment, President Bush's (search) re-election committee rolled out its first campaign commercials on Wednesday, using images of the destroyed World Trade Center to claim "steady leadership in times of change."
"What sees us through tough times? Freedom, faith, families, and sacrifice," says one commercial, as clips roll of the Sept. 11, 2001, wreckage, a flag being raised, children saying the Pledge of Allegiance, parishioners at a church, parents with a new baby and firefighters.
The ads portray the Republican incumbent as a steward who has led the country through three years of economic woes and terrorism fears and seek to make the case that Bush has emerged as a leader amid foreign and domestic challenges.
"I know exactly where I want to lead this country," Bush says in a different ad. "I'm optimistic about America because I believe in the people of America."
Flush with more than $100 million, the campaign on Thursday begins what is expected to be multimillion-dollar advertising onslaught lasting several months.
The first three ads, unveiled at campaign headquarters in suburban Washington, will run on broadcast channels in about 80 markets in 18 states, most of which are expected to be competitive, and nationwide on select cable networks.
The states are: Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin.
The campaign would not discuss its ad buy. However, it already is spending about $4.5 million on cable networks, including CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, to run three weeks of ads. It also has bought about $6 million worth of airtime on local broadcast affiliates for one week worth of commercials, according to non-campaign sources familiar with the buys, which are moderate in most of the media markets.
For now, the ads are positive but they will turn sharply critical at some point, contrasting Bush's record with that of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (search), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
If the ads succeed in boosting Bush's sagging poll numbers, Democrats will have little choice but to respond quickly and substantially on the air. But Bush's huge cash advantage could put a dent in the coffers of Kerry, who just finished an expensive primary season, and the Democratic National Committee, which has $16 million to start its ad campaign.
Liberal outside groups, which can't coordinate with the campaign or the DNC, also plan to spend millions on ads to counter Bush's onslaught. The MoveOn.org Voter Fund (search) was going on the air Thursday in 17 of the states.
Bush-Cheney advisers said the ads are meant to show the country is safer and stronger because of Bush's approach following the terrorist attacks, and to make the case that his economic policies have helped move the nation from a recession toward recovery.
"We thought it important to start with a setting the table of where the country's been over the last three years," said Matthew Dowd, the campaign's chief strategist.
The campaign had said it would not use Sept. 11, 2001, for political reasons, yet footage from the aftermath of the terrorists attacks is shown in the ads.
Campaign manager Ken Mehlman said the day was a defining moment that led to Bush's accomplishments, including passage of the Patriot Act and the war in Afghanistan that eliminated the Taliban rule. "These are important parts of this administration's record," he said.
Carrying the slogan — "Steady leadership in times of change" — the ads are warm and soothing, not unlike those done for Bush in 2000. Maverick Media, headed by Bush media adviser Mark McKinnon, produced the spots as in 2000.
In a 60-second ad, the Bushes sit together in the White House and talk about what the nation needs in a president. "The strength, the focus, the characteristics that these times demand," Laura Bush says. Interspersed are clips of people doing everyday things, and scenes of Bush.
A 30-second ad that uses mostly text and also was filmed in Spanish marks major milestones in the nation's recent history, starting with Bush's inauguration in January 2001 and moving through images of scrolling stock market numbers, an Internet address, World Trade Center wreckage and firefighters carrying a casket.
The third ad, also at 30 seconds, sandwiches images of Bush around portraits of people of mixed ages and races as it focuses on values of "freedom, faith, families and sacrifice." An announcer tells how "the last few years have tested America in many ways" but how "America rose to the challenge" with Bush at the helm.