WASHINGTON – President Bush's re-election campaign advertises on a health club network to catch busy professionals watching TV from a treadmill while a Republican group appeals to blacks who traditionally support Democrats with ads that call John Kerry's (search) wife "elitist, rich and white."
With the presidential race very tight, Republicans and Democrats are using media in different ways to try to pick up votes wherever they can and ensure that no one is overlooked. Neither side is taking anything for granted four years after Bush won the White House by a smidgen.
"If you're going to win by a lot, you don't have to think about every last voter," said Mary Stuckey, who teaches political communication at Georgia State University. The campaigns have to "scrabble for every vote," she said.
The 2000 election underscored the notion that every vote counts. Then, six states were decided by fewer than 10,000 votes: Wisconsin, Iowa, New Mexico, Oregon, New Hampshire and Florida, whose 537-vote margin tipped the race to Bush.
While TV ads remain the most powerful way to reach swaths of voters, strategists recognize that other sectors of the public don't watch TV and that those who do have more viewing options than in years past.
As a result, both parties are supplementing the more than $280 million invested in TV through the end of the month with other forms of media or are using TV in very targeted ways to reach previously unrecognized voter groups.
Such targeting will get even more precise and widespread as the race enters the post-Labor Day sprint. Automated telephone calls and direct mail will flood homes, and ads on radio and cable TV channels, which have enormous targeting capabilities, will become even more pointed.
"You can't afford to leave any stone unturned this year," said Scott Reed, a Republican consultant who ran Bob Dole's (search) presidential race in 1996.
This week, Kerry's campaign rolled out a "multimedia tool kit" that includes a five-minute video featuring testimonials about Kerry from Hispanic leaders. It is meant to help Kerry's field organizers court as many Hispanics as possible, particularly those living in small rural enclaves that sometimes get bypassed.
Meanwhile, a group of Democrats are running TV and newspaper ads in New Mexico and Wisconsin, two states where Ralph Nader (search) did well in 2000, to communicate specifically with voters who supported him then. The goal: convince them that voting for Nader this year will hurt Kerry.
The ads, by TheNaderFactor.com, claim Republicans are helping Nader get on the ballot in key states because "the right wing believes that helping Ralph Nader helps George Bush."
At the same time, Bush is running ads on a TV network broadcast in 250 health clubs. Campaign aides think some busy professionals who frequent gyms are more undecided because they don't see much information about the presidential race.
Matthew Dowd, the Bush campaign's chief strategist, said getting to those voters is especially important "since the media is so diverse and the race is so close that any given state could be decided by a few thousand votes."
People of Color United, a Washington-based group bankrolled by a Republican insurance executive, is assailing Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, in ads on black radio stations and in mainstream newspapers that reach into heavily black neighborhoods.
One commercial says: "Our community doesn't need another wishy-washy, rich, white politician. And boy, does Kerry come across as rich, white and wishy-washy." Another says: "His wife says she's an African American. While technically true, I don' t believe a white woman, raised in Africa, surrounded by servants qualifies." Referring to Heinz Kerry, newspaper ads ask: "African-American? Or elitist, rich and white?"
People of Color United is spending a small amount, about $150,000, on ads. But they could pack a large punch because they are aimed at a specific demographic. Kerry's campaign has denounced the spots.
Virginia Walden Ford, the group's president, said she just wants to make blacks "more informed voters."
But Jim Jordan, a Democratic strategist who speaks for a cluster of independent groups working to defeat Bush, said the group's ads clearly are meant to suppress the black vote — not attract them to Bush's ticket.