Democrat John Kerry (search) started running a Spanish-language radio commercial in five states this week, just as a group of centrist Democrats readied the next phase of its Hispanic-targeted advertising — commercials assailing President Bush.

The New Democrat Network will unveil two new television ads on Wednesday criticizing Bush and Republicans for opposing Democratic proposals on health care and the minimum wage.

Polls show a competitive presidential race and both parties are determined to sway Hispanics, the fastest-growing minority group whose votes will be crucial in battleground states that had tiny margins in 2000.

Kerry's radio ad, costing a mere $45,000, started running Saturday in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Oregon. It will run for about two weeks as part of the campaign's previously announced $1 million TV, radio and print advertising effort aimed at courting Hispanics.

The 60-second ad touches on themes salient to the minority group — education, health care, and values like honor and faith. It praises Kerry for "defending the working class" and fighting to "improve public education" for Hispanic children. "John Kerry, our hope for a better future," the ad says.

A print ad also is being placed in Hispanic newspapers.

Democratic Rep. Robert Menendez (search) of New Jersey said that such a "major commitment of money" for Spanish-language commercials by Kerry and the New Democrat Network will make a large difference in courting the Hispanic vote.

He credited the New Democrat Network (search) with laying the groundwork for Kerry's campaign, saying "They got it before the rest of the party got it."

The group has spent $2.2 million since March to run Spanish-language TV ads in 13 media markets in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Florida and Colorado. It also will release polling Wednesday that shows "tremendous growth" in Hispanic support for Democrats in media markets in those states.