WASHINGTON – Vintage cars spin around a police officer, prices rise on an old-fashioned gas pump and a man wearing a chauffeur-style hat pumps fuel in a new campaign ad from President Bush that claims Democratic rival John Kerry (search) supports high gas taxes.
"Some people have wacky ideas. Like taxing gasoline more so people drive less. That's John Kerry," an announcer says as carnival-like music plays.
The quirky — though hard-hitting — ad is reminiscent of the Keystone Kops (search) of the black-and-white movie era, complete with carnival-like music and quick-moving scenes.
Creatively, it's different from the incumbent Republican's previous commercials as the campaign uses humor to try to blunt the force of the attack. The goal, however, is the same: portray Kerry as a tax-raising Democrat.
The issue in the 30-second ad is gas taxes (search) at a time when the price of a gallon has hit record levels. Bush's re-election campaign unveiled the commercial as the Massachusetts senator offered his proposals for curbing gas prices and blamed Bush's economic policies for the spike.
The ad, which continues Bush's effort to define Kerry as a liberal based on his 19-year Senate record, is meant to shift the focus from Kerry's criticism and put him on the defensive on a hot button issue.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, in a conference call with reporters, called the ad "simply untrue" and accused the Bush campaign of distorting Kerry's record. "He has never supported 11 separate gas tax increases," as the ad suggests, Feinstein said.
Bush's campaign hit back, releasing statements from GOP senators, including Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, who said: "Kerry needs to explain why his only energy policy has been one of obstructing the president's comprehensive efforts to lower energy prices."
The ad starts running Wednesday on local broadcast channels in 18 states and national cable networks. Bush, with about $110 million on hand, is spending at least $6.5 million to run the ads in his fourth week on the air.
Kerry is spending less than one-third of Bush's buy this week to run ads in 17 states. Outside interest groups with ties to Democrats also are helping. The AFL-CIO (search) plans to start running ads Thursday that focus on job losses under Bush.
And, MoveOn.org's (search) political action committee on Tuesday started running the first of two ads referencing statements by Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism adviser who has criticized the administration. The first quotes Clarke as saying the Bush administration "ignored terrorism for months."
Bush's ad is based almost entirely on Kerry's votes and quotes regarding President Clinton's economic stimulus package in the mid-1990s.
The ad says Kerry "supported higher gasoline taxes 11 times." But some of the votes the Bush campaign cites to back up that claim were procedural Senate votes, while others were votes on larger bills.
Kerry voted for the budget bill of 1993, which included Clinton's 4.3-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase meant to help reduce the deficit. Kerry also opposed several attempts in 1996 to repeal the increase. His campaign says he feared it could lead to 50,000 jobs lost.
In 2000, Kerry opposed a bill that would have suspended the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents a gallon for 150 days. Kerry's campaign says he did so because the bill didn't ensure that oil companies would roll back prices.
The ad also highlights a 1994 comment by Kerry to the Boston Globe, in which he said he supported a 50-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase. Kerry didn't vote for that bill and wasn't its sponsor. Yet, Bush's ad says: "If Kerry's tax increase were law, the average family would pay $657 more a year."