BOSTON – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) is launching $3 million worth of campaign ads targeting Hispanics and blacks this week as he tries to shore up the minority vote that is critical in his quest for the White House.
As polls continue to show a competitive presidential race, both parties are determined to sway Hispanics, the fastest-growing minority whose votes will be crucial in battleground states in which the margin was razor-thin in 2000. Democrats, who handily won the black vote four years ago, are seeking to avoid any erosion in support.
President Bush (search) began a radio campaign on Monday costing more than $1 million in 18 states. The 60-second ad, broadcast in English and Spanish, criticizes Kerry for missing more than two-thirds of votes in the Senate during his presidential campaign.
Blacks and Hispanics lean Democratic, but Kerry is not taking them for granted after complaints that he doesn't have enough minorities on his staff or natural appeal in their communities like the last Democratic president — Bill Clinton (search).
As he picked up the endorsement of minority elected officials in Massachusetts on Monday, Kerry said his campaign stands for the "values of helping to open the doors of opportunity." The four-term Massachusetts senator used the forum to criticize Bush for snubbing a meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (search), which Kerry will attend Thursday.
"Friends, I will be a president who meets with the leadership of the civil rights congress, who meets with the NAACP," Kerry said. Kerry spokesman David Wade said Kerry was referring to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
As he has done in previous years of his presidency, Bush has declined to address the NAACP this year.
Kerry announced that he is spending $1 million on Spanish-language ads, and The Associated Press has learned that on Wednesday he plans to unveil a $2 million ad campaign on radio stations, newspapers and television stations popular with blacks.
He also plans to announce that he's hired Bill Lynch as deputy campaign manager, said four Democratic officials. Lynch is black and served as the former deputy mayor of New York City, vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee and president of his own consulting firm.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, said the ad buy will go a long way toward helping Kerry win support among blacks. Cummings also said blacks feel a connection with Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina — something they couldn't always say about Kerry.
"African-American people feel Edwards. They feel it like they felt Clinton," Cummings said, although exit polls conducted during the primaries showed blacks favored Kerry over Edwards.
Cummings said he told Kerry when it became clear he was going to win the Democratic nomination that blacks were tired of coming out to vote for Democrats without getting much input in their campaigns. He said Kerry's campaign is listening, with weekly conference calls with members of the black caucus, often with campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill and chairwoman Jeanne Shaheen.
"I have direct access to Mary Beth," Cummings said. "I probably talk to her every other day."
The Kerry campaign's concern is not that blacks will vote for Bush but rather low turnout on Election Day. The campaign for Hispanics is more hard-fought, with both campaigns trying to win the backing of the politically disparate group.
Blacks who went to the polls in 2000 chose Democrat Al Gore over Bush by a 9-to-1 margin, and nearly two-thirds of Hispanics supported Gore. Still, Bush made inroads with Hispanics in the last election and was rewarded with 35 percent of their vote. Previous Republican presidential nominees failed to break 30 percent among Hispanic voters — Bob Dole garnered 21 percent in 1996 and Bush's father got 25 percent in 1992.
The Hispanic ad Bush began airing Monday is titled "Havoc," and it singles out two votes Kerry has missed — one to cap medical malpractice awards and one to fund the war in Iraq. The ad points out that Kerry made it back to the Senate to vote against legislation that expanded the legal rights of the unborn by making it a separate crime to harm a fetus during an assault on a pregnant woman.
"If these are John Kerry's priorities, let's hope there is a lot of havoc in his schedule," a narrator says.
The ad includes a clip of Kerry complaining, "This is wreaking havoc with my schedule." However, Kerry was complaining about the length of a television interview, not votes in the Senate. The Bush ad doesn't explain that.
Kerry's 30-second Spanish-language television ad titled "Honor" features aspects of Kerry's life that his campaign is hoping will appeal to Hispanics.
"We introduce you to a man of faith," a narrator says in Spanish. "A man of family. A man of honor. A man for our community. His name is John Kerry. And for more than twenty years, he has defended working people. And has fought so they can reach their dreams."
As the narrator speaks, the viewer sees images of Kerry playing with his daughters when they were young, getting a medal in the Navy and working in the Senate. At the end, Kerry is heard saying "Si se puede!" — yes we can — to a cheering crowd.
Kerry raked in $5 million in a series of fund-raisers while he was in his hometown of Boston on Monday — one-third went to his campaign and the rest to the Democratic National Committee. The events included a concert by singers Michelle Branch and Jackson Browne.