WASHINGTON – First lady Laura Bush (search) has a starring role in a groundbreaking Internet ad blitz her husband's re-election campaign will launch Wednesday.
The former librarian promotes President Bush's education policies in a commercial being placed on about three dozen Internet sites, many of which cater to Internet-savvy women who are watching less television.
"I know what it's like to teach," Laura Bush told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "I know how difficult it is, and also how fulfilling it is."
She dismissed critics of Bush's education policies, saying much of the carping "sounds like excuses to me."
Starting Wednesday, people who click on her icon on designated Web sites will see Laura Bush seated before rows of books and praising her husband's signature education legislation.
"The No Child Left Behind Act (search) combines more federal education spending than ever before with high standards and accountability, so that we know the money is being put to good use," she says in the ad. The picture occasionally fades from the first lady to a chalkboard outlining the president's points.
In the middle of the presentation, Mrs. Bush introduces a 30-second ad in which an announcer promotes Bush's education initiative.
That 30-second ad — without the introduction by Laura Bush — also will be shown on television in battleground states, along with a 60-second spot accusing Democratic rival John Kerry of waffling. The campaign will spend about $1.5 million to air the education ad on television over nine days, and about $9 million for the negative commercial over two weeks.
Campaigns and parties mainly have used Internet ads to gather e-mail addresses or raise money. Internet experts say Bush is among the first political candidates to put ads on Web sites to communicate a specific message to a particular group of voters, with the sole intent of persuading them to cast their ballots one way or another.
Signed in 2002, the No Child Left Behind education law mandated tough testing and gives all students until 2014 to become proficient in reading and math.
Democratic opponents say Bush is enforcing the law on the cheap by holding schools accountable for big gains without enough money to succeed.
Laura Bush said school districts had not tapped some $6 billion in education funding that was available at the start of the year. She also dismissed teachers who complain about the number of tests they're required to administer.
"No one would go to the doctor and say, 'I don't feel well, but you can't run any tests on me.' It's the same with a child. You can't just run them through school with no accountability and find out they can't read in the ninth grade," she said.
Summing up the criticisms, she said, "All of those things sound like excuses to me."
Kerry, a Massachusetts senator who voted for No Child Left Behind, now says he sees problems with the legislation and wants changes, mainly in the way student progress is measured.
"The question now is why would they highlight a bill that they have completely walked away from by not funding and undermining its reforms," spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said.
Edward McElroy, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers (search), the nation's second-largest teachers union, criticized Bush's new ad script as "misleading." He said lack of federal guidance and inadequate funding have "turned what should have been a rousing success for students and schools into a disappointing blame game."
Among the Internet sites running the ad will by Yahoo!, Parenting and Ladies Home Journal. It also will run on the sites of several local newspapers in states that are critical to Bush's re-election bid.