WASHINGTON – John Kerry's (search) words are being used against him in President Bush's new television ad, which accuses the presumptive Democratic nominee of waffling on military issues.
Airing nationally on cable TV, the commercial borrows heavily from an ad Bush is airing in West Virginia this week criticizing Kerry for voting against an $87 billion aid package for Iraq and Afghanistan last year.
Campaigning in West Virginia Tuesday, Kerry responded to the ad, saying he voted against the $87 billion bill because he did not support the president's military and reconstruction plans. The Democrat explained that he supported a failed amendment that would have paid for the Iraq and Afghanistan programs by repealing Bush's tax cuts.
"I actually did vote for his $87 billion, before I voted against it," Kerry said.
Bush's campaign tacked that quote to the end of the West Virginia ad, which was edited slightly to make room for Kerry's have-it-both-ways response. The new ad was released Thursday.
Kerry's campaign criticized Bush and "his attack-dog vice president" for assailing Kerry as "America continues to falter." Privately, Kerry's advisers acknowledged that the response was a mistake that played into Bush's efforts to cast his rival as a politician who takes both sides of every issue. The development also underscored how difficult it will be for Kerry to defend the thousands of votes he has cast as a four-term Massachusetts senator.
"Slash-and-burn politics aren't going to fix the problems in Iraq, employ a single American or bring health care to a single family," said Stephanie Cutter (search), Kerry's spokeswoman. "Mission still not accomplished."
Both versions of the ad open with Bush saying he approved the message, a requirement under the law. They accuse Kerry of voting against body armor and higher pay for U.S. troops as well as improved health care for reservists, all provisions in the $87 billion bill.
The new ad includes the announcer saying, "What does Kerry say now?" and then fades to Kerry's quote. It ends, like the West Virginia ad, with the announcer accusing Kerry of being "wrong on defense."
It is the latest example of what the Bush campaign promises will be a nimble advertising campaign that targets issues and voters better than the Republican did in the 2000 race against Al Gore.
Bush is spending about $4.5 million through May on cable TV and about $6 million a week on broadcast TV in 18 states to try to cast Kerry as a flip-flopping, soft-on-terrorism politician. After a brief hiatus, Bush also is running his 60-second positive ad that depicts him as a leader on the economy and terrorism.
Kerry and his allies are competing ad for ad against Bush in many key markets, accusing Bush of ruining the economy and distorting Kerry's record.
The White House believes the next two months may be more important than the last 60 days of the campaign because they have a chance to define Kerry before Americans get to know him.