WASHINGTON – Those incessant political ads aren't just on television. They're now on billboards, DVDs and even traffic reports.
Republicans and Democrats are turning to every means available to get out their messages in the final weeks of the race between President Bush and Democrat John Kerry (search), a time when voters are paying the most attention.
For example, the Bush campaign has started to sponsor live radio traffic reports in seven states, a novel approach for a presidential effort.
At the start of a report, an announcer reads, "This traffic report is paid for by Bush-Cheney '04." The traffic update is followed by a brief campaign message: "John Kerry recently called terrorism a nuisance — like gambling and prostitution. ..."
Polls show the race extraordinarily close, so final contacts could be crucial. Strategists say whichever side can turn out the most voters will win the White House.
"This is the period where they're going to talk to voters from the minute they wake up to the minute they go to bed," said Evan Tracey, the head of the political ad tracker TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group. "They're not going to leave a stone unturned."
TV remains the best way to reach millions of people, and this week alone, the candidates, their political parties and outside groups are spending at least $45 million on television ads in competitive states and on national cable networks.
Both sides could opt to spend even more on TV. But available TV airtime so close to the end of the campaign is limited and, therefore, very expensive. Plus, there may be better ways than TV to catch the attention of voters who may have become numb to the relentless barrage of at least $500 million worth of commercials that have filled television screens for eight months.
So Republicans and Democrats are plunking signs in yards, stuffing mailboxes with campaign literature and putting fliers on front doors and car windshields in the most competitive states as part of massive get-out-the-vote efforts.
Both sides have drawn the ire of each other for the content of some of their literature.
The Republican National Committee sent a mailer to voters in Arkansas and West Virginia with a picture of a man placing a ring on the hand of another man. It said that a failure to vote would open the way for liberals to ban the Bible and allow same-sex marriage.
For its part, a Democratic-aligned group called America Coming Together has been circulating a flier in Missouri that includes a 1960s photograph of a firefighter shooting water at a black man with a caption that reads: "This is what they used to do to keep us from voting." It accuses Republicans of conspiring to suppress the black vote through intimidation and scare tactics.
Radio also is being used to a larger degree in the final weeks.
Kerry's campaign and the Democratic National Committee, which have run few radio ads this fall, have launched what will end up being a $2 million endgame radio blitz in eight battleground states. Bush's campaign continues running radio ads in more than a dozen states.
Billboards from outside groups also have popped up.
In some states, a group called Rednecks for a Better America has sponsored billboards that show Kerry and say "Believes in God, too. Just doesn't use Him as a P.R. man." Others show Vice President Dick Cheney and say: "Paid $25 million by Halliburton in 2000. Halliburton gets $7 billion Iraq contract in 2003. Yeah, it's all about the Weapons of Mass Destruction."
The National Rifle Association's billboards in several states portray Kerry as a sweater-wearing poodle with a pink bow and mock his attempts to paint himself as friendly to gun sports. The ads say, "That dog don't hunt."
And, a group called Let Freedom Ring has mailed a copy of its DVD documentary called "Inner Strength" to 10,000 pastors in Pennsylvania and Ohio, giving them guidelines about how they can legally show and distribute the DVD to their congregations. The documentary explores the role of faith in Bush's life.