WASHINGTON – President Bush's campaign, using powerful imagery of prowling wolves, suggests in a new TV ad that the country under John Kerry (search) would be vulnerable to terrorists because "weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm."
Countering, Kerry running mate John Edwards (search) said Bush "is continuing to try to scare America in his speeches and ads in a despicable and contemptible way."
"They have stooped so low now that they are using a pack of wolves running around a forest trying to scare you, trying to scare the American people," Edwards said in Boynton Beach, Fla.
Reminiscent of Ronald Reagan's Soviet "Bear" ad that was credited with helping frame the 1984 race, the commercial shows a dense forest from above. Scurrying is heard as the camera plunges deeper into the woods and pans sunlight-speckled trees. Shadows move through the brush before animals are seen amid the forest.
Then, the ad reveals the type of animal: A pack of wolves rest on a hill. As the commercial closes, the predators stir, moving toward the camera.
"In an increasingly dangerous world, even after the first terrorist attack on America, John Kerry and the liberals in Congress voted to slash America's intelligence budget by $6 billion," an ominous voice says in the ad. "Cuts so deep they would have weakened America's defenses. And weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm."
It implies that terrorists would take advantage of a Kerry presidency and the country could face another attack, which Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have implied on the campaign trail. The vice president said last month the country was likely to be "hit again" if voters made the "wrong choice" in November.
The ad also seeks to make the case that Bush's opponent doesn't understand the threat terrorists pose to the United States and it attempts to undermine Kerry's credibility by portraying him as someone who shouldn't be trusted with keeping the country safe.
"It's certainly playing to fear," said Darrell West, a Brown University political scientist who studies campaign advertising. "It builds logically on other things they've been saying for months."
The ad, Bush aides say, was created in the spring and was found to be highly effective in focus groups.
Voters in 14 states will see the ad, which also will run on national cable, starting Friday. Bush's campaign and the Republican National Committee are spending roughly $15 million on TV commercials this week, and GOP officials say that sum is likely to be higher next week, the last one before Nov. 2.
Polls show Bush and Kerry in a tight race, and both campaigns are focusing on national security to try to gain ground. Bush is trying to persuade voters to stay the course in wartime by arguing change would put the country at risk. Kerry is seeking to make the case for change by claiming Bush has failed in the war on terror and in Iraq.
The ad's claim that Kerry proposed $6 billion in cuts to the intelligence budget after the first World Trade Center attack in 1993 lacks context.
Like other Senate Republicans and Democrats, Kerry sought reductions in intelligence spending after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. He sponsored an amendment in 1994 as part of a plan aimed at reducing huge federal deficits.
To reach the $6 billion figure, Bush's campaign previously has referenced a 1994 comment by Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., in which he says "the Kerry amendment includes a $1 billion cut in fiscal year 1994 and $5 billion over the next five years from intelligence activities."
Bush's ad is modeled after one that was widely credited with framing Reagan's 1984 re-election race and helping the incumbent Republican bury Democratic challenger Walter Mondale.
Although that 30-second ad never mentioned Mondale, Communism or the Cold War, it used a menacing grizzly bear shuffling through a forest to represent the Soviet Union and asked: "Is it smart to be as strong as the bear — if there is a bear?"