McAuliffe Predicts Voter Frustration With Negative Ads

President Bush's ad campaign may have hurt Democrat John Kerry (search) in the short term, but voters will tire of negative Republican attacks over the long haul, Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe (search) said Thursday.

Hours before the party's $11 million fund-raising dinner, McAuliffe summoned reporters to his Capitol Hill office to announce that he had $25 million in the bank and planned to raise another $100 million.

Though Republicans will likely collect more, McAuliffe said $125 million would set a record for the Democratic National Committee (search) and be enough to help defeat Bush.

"The general election commences today," he said.

Former Presidents Clinton and Carter joined former Vice President Al Gore (search) and most of Kerry's primary season rivals at the DNC's "Unity Day" fund-raiser as a new poll showed the presidential race in a dead heat.

The survey released by Democracy Corps (search) found Bush at 50 percent and Kerry at 47 percent. Kerry held a slight lead in mid-February, 51 percent to 47 percent — suggesting a slight shift toward Bush in recent weeks.

The poll of 1,004 voters taken March 16-21 has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. McAuliffe said he sensed that Bush had been helped by his ads against Kerry "in the short term," but said the numbers will go up and down until Nov. 2 election.

"In the long term, I'm not so sure that it is a good thing for him" to be criticizing Kerry by name, McAuliffe said of Bush, who has taken to challenging his likely rival by name. McAuliffe said people might not want the president leading a negative campaign.

Most public polls now show Bush and Kerry running about even.

The DNC, traditionally in debt and politically divided after primary fights, is operating in the black earlier than ever, McAuliffe said. Each of Kerry's former rivals are helping raise money for the party or the nominee-in-waiting.

The DNC raised $4 million that went directly to Kerry's coffers after he cemented the nomination earlier this month. In addition to the $25 million on hand, McAuliffe said he will raise $100 million before Nov. 2 to help elect Kerry and other Democrats. The Republican National Committee (search) reported $45 million on hand at the beginning of the month.

Kerry can direct spending of that money until May 1, after which only about $16 million can be spent in coordination with the presidential campaign.

From May until Nov. 2, the DNC's independent expenditure team — which McAuliffe is close to hiring — will oversee a multimillion-dollar ad campaign without direction or coordination from Kerry's team.