WASHINGTON – President Bush accuses rival John Kerry (search), a decorated Vietnam veteran, of voting against American troops in a new television ad that begins running Tuesday in West Virginia.
"Few votes in Congress are as important as funding our troops at war. Though John Kerry voted in October of 2002 for military action in Iraq, he later voted against funding our soldiers," the ad says.
The 30-second ad labels Kerry "wrong on defense" and says the Massachusetts senator did not support bills that would have ensured troops had body armor and earned higher combat pay, and that would have given reservists (search) and their families better health care.
Kerry campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said the bills included provisions for no-bid contracts that were "a clear giveaway to Bush's friends" and claimed that Bush is the only candidate that has "turned his back on those troops."
"While John Kerry is committed to these troops, he's not going to help Bush further his failed policies," Cutter said
Bush's new ad is running initially in West Virginia, where Kerry was campaigning Tuesday, but Bush advisers said it may run elsewhere where polls show it would be successful, if not nationwide. Bush is airing commercials at moderate-to-heavy levels in 18 states, claiming Kerry's economic and national security proposals and record are flawed.
Bush advisers said the new ad is designed to counter Kerry's potential appeal in the culturally conservative state -- his Vietnam War (search) record -- and is the first sign of a new strategy for the Bush team.
In 2000, Bush's campaign primarily stuck to a single nationwide theme at a time in its TV advertising. This year, global themes will be supplemented by ads targeted to specific states based on detailed polling and focus groups.
In this case, criticizing Kerry's record on military issues both undercuts his appeal as a veteran and underscores the White House's argument that he says one thing and does another, the advisers said, speaking on condition of anonymity. They said ads touting Bush's strengths and attacking Kerry on other issues will be crafted for a specific state or states.
Advisers said the ad shows Kerry is operating in a "parallel universe."
"He's accusing the president of things that his record actually says he did," said Matthew Dowd, Bush's chief strategist.
Cutter responded that Bush "faces a bigger problem in that he has a mounting, widening and deepening credibility gap in his ability to take care of the troops."