NEW YORK – John Kerry (search) will begin his post-Labor Day advertising blitz in seven states from New Hampshire to New Mexico, his political Ground Zero for a $50 million campaign scheduled to expand into another 13 states by Nov. 2.
In a rare advanced buy, the Democratic campaign began reserving air time Wednesday night in Ohio, Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, according to Democratic officials familiar with the buy. Ads begin airing Friday in Ohio, then next week in the other six states.
The campaign also was buying air time through Nov. 2 in Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Michigan, Arizona, Louisiana, Colorado, Arkansas and North Carolina and West Virginia. They won't see ads until later this fall.
The $50 million is more than half of the about $90 million that Kerry has at his disposal between now and Nov. 2. On top of the massive downpayment, officials said the campaign has budgeted an undisclosed amount of money to pour into key states later in the fall.
Ads will air on local network affiliates, cable TV and broadcast outlets targeting minorities.
There are no surprises among the 20 states that Kerry has effectively identified as his battlegrounds. The remaining 30 states plus the District of Columbia are either safely Republican or Democratic, aides said, with the possible exception of Virginia.
Bush, in New York for his nominating convention, was placing his first fall ad order this week, and ads begin airing Tuesday. Unlike Kerry, who took the unusual step of buying most of his ad time in advance, the Bush campaign is expected to place its order one or two weeks at a time.
Of Kerry's top seven states, four were narrowly won by Democrat Al Gore in 2000: Iowa, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Pennsylvania. Three other states were barely won by Bush, including Florida where he escaped with a 537-vote margin.
To reach the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, Kerry needs to reclaim each of the states won by Gore plus pick up 10 electoral votes. His biggest targets are economically ailing Ohio (20 votes) or Florida (27 votes), where the Democratic-leaning population is growing. New Hampshire and its four electoral votes were also won by Bush.
Of the 13 states slated for ads in later waves, Nevada and West Virginia, with a combined 10 electoral votes, are considered to be Kerry's best opportunities to claim a state won by Bush four years ago.
Nevada has a growing Hispanic population, and many voters fault Bush for his support of a nuclear waste site in the state. West Virginia is filled with cultural conservatives courted by the GOP, but a tough economy and the Iraq war could help Kerry. It begins seeing ads Sept. 21.
Officials said the fall commercials will focus on local media markets with the heaviest numbers of undecided, independent or persuadable votes. Eventually, they may begin airing in heavily Republican or Democratic areas as Kerry search for the stray swing voter, aides said.
In Virginia, Kerry has spent $2.5 million to try to make the state competitive, but it didn't make the list.
The two-month buy was timed to coincide with Bush's nominating convention as Kerry looks to steal some of the president's thunder and curb his momentum. Previewing his fall strategy with a two monthlong buy is unusual and risky: Bush's campaign now knows his Electoral College strategy and can plot its response accordingly.
However, buying airtime now means that Kerry could save money in the long-run. He can lock in current advertising rates, which rise sharply in the fall as demand for airtime soars. Kerry can always readjust his buys later, canceling ads in states he feels he can't win and redeploying those dollars to others he believes he can.
Upon accepting his party's nomination last month, Kerry received $75 million in federal funds for the fall campaign. Bush gets the same amount later this week. Each candidate has another $15 million or so to spend in coordination with their national party committees.
Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee's independent expenditure office, which can't coordinate with Kerry's campaign, will spend nearly $3 million in four days over the holiday weekend, typically a time when the airwaves are dark.
The DNC is attempting to put a damper any post-convention bounce Bush may get by flooding airwaves in 19 states. Unlike its previous buy, the DNC won't be on the air in Delaware or Virginia.