Surrogates Take Kerry Message to Airwaves

Democratic Sen. Harry Reid (search) says in a TV ad in his state that "Nevada needs John Kerry (search) as president to protect all our families." In Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell plugs the Democrat's candidacy in a commercial. In Florida, Sen. Bob Graham (search) has vouched for Kerry in a spot in his home state.

In the campaign homestretch, and in some of the most competitive states in the presidential race, Massachusetts Sen. Kerry is turning to ads that feature high-profile hometown surrogates singing his praises.

Kerry used the same strategy during the Democratic primaries, and it is credited with helping him to come-from-behind victories in Iowa's caucuses and New Hampshire's primary. Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack, a popular personality there, and former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vouched for Kerry in TV commercials in their states.

There's no research on the effectiveness of such endorsement ads, but the campaigns hope voters — especially the undecided ones — will follow the urgings of their favorite hometown sons or daughters.

Some political analysts say Kerry's testimonial ads could tip the race his way in close states because the appeal is more personal. Still, they warn that campaigns must carefully choose their surrogates since all are not well loved by everyone.

William Benoit, who analyzes political ads at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said he doesn't think such ads change the minds of the masses. But, he added: "In a battleground state in a very close race, it's conceivable that it would do the trick."

So, Kerry has been on the air with such ads in a couple of the most hotly contested states — Nevada, Pennsylvania and Florida, among others. His campaign is tailoring its ad strategy to a larger degree than President Bush's campaign, choosing where certain commercials run and creating others for specific states.

In Nevada, Reid couples words of praise for Kerry with criticism of Bush's handling of the local Yucca Mountain controversy. "For 20 years I've been leading the fight to stop the nuclear waste dump. I know who stood with our state and I know that George Bush broke his word as president, pushing ahead with a nuclear dump that's a danger to Nevadans."

Graham, in an ad aired in Florida, criticizes Bush on issues important to the state's large retiree population. "While George Bush and the Republicans in Congress have been in control, Medicare premiums have gone up 56 percent," Graham says. He also says Kerry would allow prescription drugs to be imported from Canada.

Up north in Pennsylvania, Rendell holds up a copy of Kerry's plan and tells constituents "I have a suggestion — read this book." The governor praises the Democrat's proposals for the middle class and claims: "George Bush and the right-wing Republicans stand in the way."

In an ad in West Virginia, Sen. Robert Byrd said: "George Bush is no friend to West Virginia. Believe me. In the Bush White House, the working man is the forgotten man."

But even the endorsement of a hero among West Virginia Democrats couldn't stop Kerry's sliding poll numbers there. The campaign has pulled its ads out of most media markets in the state. And even though the Democratic Party continues to advertise there, Kerry advisers privately acknowledge that their focus is elsewhere.