The Bush-Cheney campaign (search) has pared back its television ads in Washington state, leading Democrats to assert that the White House is conceding the state.
But Republicans said Friday they continue an aggressive "ground game" and still intend to carry the state that hasn't gone GOP since 1984.
Washington was on a list of battleground states for months, but most analysts now say it leans to Democrat John Kerry (search).
Most recent polls show the Kerry-Edwards (search) ticket leading by anywhere from 5 to 14 percentage points. A new poll by Strategic Vision, an Atlanta-based put the race within the margin of error, with Kerry at 47 and Bush at 45.
Kerry's state campaign director, Sam Rodriguez, said Bush's campaign ad buy has dwindled to a trickle, signifying that the White House is quietly withdrawing from all-out competition for the state's 11 electoral votes.
"The Bush operation here is hemorrhaging," he said.
Media surveys showed that the Bush campaign has spent at a torrid clip in Washington — more than $3.5 million this year — but has reserved less than $62,500 in airtime in the Seattle market, compared with nearly $500,000 reserved by Kerry.
"I think this, and the apparent pulling of ads by the national Republicans for (Senate challenger) George Nethercutt shows the Republican bigwigs in Washington, D.C., have decided this state is a waste of their time," state Democratic Chairman Paul Berendt said in an interview.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee is pulling back more than $1 million worth of scheduled TV ad time for Nethercutt. But committee spokesman Dan Allen said the party is far from abandoning Nethercutt and is spending $690,000 for a new ad to boost his campaign.
Berendt said he has long predicted a Kerry victory here, and said the downsizing of the Bush airtime only confirms that. He said Washington could be considered a "light blue" state — not definitely locked down for Kerry, but likely to go his way.
"We've got to still be on guard with Bush," he said. "They will still be airing national ads, like on the morning news shows."
Leah Yoon, spokeswoman for the state Bush campaign, said ad buys are decided on a weekly basis and that it's incorrect to presume the campaign has written off Washington.
"We are very much in play here," she said. "We have not pulled out and we will not scale back at this point. We will continue to work hard and take the `ground game' very seriously."
She referred to the work of 30,000 volunteers to identify and turn out Bush voters in the state.
"I know for a fact that they are fully committed to this state," said the campaign's state co-chairman, Seattle attorney Mike McKay. "I am fully satisfied and convinced that Washington state is still a competitive, full-blown battleground state."
If Democrats think Bush has pulled out, he said, "My response is just two words — `They wish."'
State GOP Chairman Chris Vance also downplayed the dwindling ad buys. The campaign could easily decided to load up again in the final days, and definitely will adhere to its plan for direct mail and personal contact of voters, he said.
"The impression that Republicans are abandoning Washington state is just wrong," he said.