WASHINGTON – The Democratic Party, with $63 million in the bank, plans to launch a massive ad campaign against President Bush (search) as John Kerry (search) crosses the United States by bus, train and boat after next week's nominating convention.
Organizers hope the July 26-29 gathering in Boston is a showcase for the presidential candidate that builds Democratic unity for the election.
The Democratic National Committee's (search) ad blitz is expected as Kerry pulls his television commercials in August, saving millions of dollars in a tight general election budget. After his convention, I wouldn't have the same answer. It certainly looks more like a possibility — I wouldn't go so far as to say probability — that Kerry will win."
GOP leaders said Democrats are fooling themselves.
"If I didn't spend time on the road and was sitting in Washington, I would be concerned," said GOP chairman Ed Gillespie (search). "But I go to places like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, where the fundamentals of the race haven't changed. It's close."
Though polls show the race essentially tied, an AP-Ipsos survey suggests that voters who can still be persuaded are more likely than committed voters to disapprove of Bush by most measures — from the economy to the war in Iraq to his handling foreign policy. Bush's advisers said uncommitted voters are easily swayed by events and thus could swing back to the president before November.
Democrats said they are in better shape that past years for a wealth of reasons, starting with money.
McAuliffe said he has $63 million of DNC money set aside and has promised the Kerry campaign he will raise another $100 million. Of that money, McAuliffe must pay for his overhead and roughly $40 million for grass-roots organizing. In addition, he can spend about $18 million in coordination with the Kerry campaign on advertising.
If he raises $100 million this fall with Kerry's help, McAuliffe would still have tens of millions to spend on independent expenditure ads. Under campaign spending laws, those spots cannot be coordinated with the Kerry team, but they can be negative, a contrast to Kerry's mostly positive ad campaign strategy.
Kerry's campaign plans to pull its advertising in August, according to campaign aides who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Separately, the DNC's independent expenditure office plans to air its first ads shortly after the convention, especially if Kerry doesn't advertise in August, according to two Democrats who are not connected with the Kerry campaign. They also spoke on condition of anonymity.
McAuliffe, who oversees the DNC's independent ads but cannot talk to Kerry's team about the project, declined to discuss his plans for party advertising.
Both Kerry and Bush have decided to accept public financing for the general election, which means they will have the same $75 million to spend from the day they are nominated until Nov. 2.
Because the Republican convention is five weeks later than Kerry's, the Democrat has to make his money go farther. The DNC could close that gap with independent expenditure ads.
Kerry plans to turn over unspent primary money to the DNC, then help the party raise money through the fall.
"I'm not surprised," Gillespie said, adding that he has set up an independent expenditure office at the Republican National Committee. "I don't know that we'll exercise that option, but we'll pursue it," Gillespie said.
Kerry, meanwhile, plans to leave the convention in Boston and campaign across the country. He is expected to visit several battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Iowa, Arizona, Nevada and Oregon, plus a few GOP and Democratic strongholds, Kerry officials said.
He will even board a boat at least once, but officials didn't say where.
"I think Kerry's going to win," said Moretta Bosley, a top Democrat in Kentucky. "All you have to do is go around and ask people, 'Are you better off than you were four years ago?' The economy is so bad in parts of Kentucky, that we don't even talk about terrorism."
Mitch Ceasar, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer and former Florida Democratic Party chairman, said the party is better off than at this time in 2000. "Now Bush has a record to run on — I mean from," he said.