WASHINGTON – President Bush, trying to counter John Kerry's record as a decorated Vietnam War (search) veteran, argues in a new campaign ad that his Democratic rival has turned his back on U.S. soldiers engaged in war.
"Though John Kerry (search) voted in October of 2002 for military action in Iraq, he later voted against funding our soldiers," the Bush-Cheney campaign ad says.
The four-term Massachusetts senator backed the congressional resolution authorizing Bush to use force in Iraq. The 30-second commercial focuses on Kerry's vote last year against an $87 billion aid package for Iraq and Afghanistan, contending that the vote denied troops body armor and higher combat pay (search), and reservists better health care.
The Kerry campaign responded that the Democrat voted against "the failed Bush policy in Iraq" not against soldiers, and faulted Bush for "refusing to take responsibility" for the aftermath of the war.
"He has a mounting, widening and deepening credibility gap in his ability to take care of the troops," said Stephanie Cutter, a Kerry spokeswoman.
Bush's ad, which started airing Tuesday in West Virginia, is designed to counter Kerry's potential appeal -- his Vietnam record -- in the state that boasts more than 203,000 veterans. It's the first sign of a new strategy for the Bush team: ads targeted to specific states.
Bush is airing commercials criticizing Kerry in 18 states and nationally on cable networks. The new ad is running only in West Virginia, where Kerry was campaigning Tuesday, but Bush advisers said it may run elsewhere where polls and focus groups show it would be successful, if not nationwide.
In 2000, Bush's campaign primarily stuck to a single nationwide theme at a time in its TV advertising. This year, it will pair the global ads with spots crafted for specific states, according to campaign advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In this case, the officials said, 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.
"He's accusing the president of things that his record actually says he did," said Matthew Dowd, Bush's chief strategist.
Kerry's campaign argues that Bush's foreign policies have meant extended deployments and delayed pay for soldiers, and cuts to health care benefits for veterans.
"He refuses to take responsiblity for his failed policies and as a result has no record to run on except attacking John Kerry," Cutter said.
Bush's new ad intersperses pictures of the Capitol building and the Senate floor with scenes of soldiers. The campaign said some of the soldiers are actors. Other scenes, from stock footage the campaign bought from companies, show real troops.
The military has rules limiting troops in ads to avoid the appearance of an endorsement by a certain branch or a service member. But a Pentagon official who reviewed the ad said it doesn't appear to violate any Army regulations or Defense Department (search) directives because the commercial does not clearly show the identity of the soldiers or any insignias of a branch.
Kerry criticized Bush on Monday for using actors to pose as journalists and soldiers in Medicare ads and campaign commercials.