WASHINGTON – Despite promises to expand the election playing field, John Kerry (search) has reduced his ad spending in Missouri, Arizona and throughout the South in the run-up to the Democratic presidential convention.
Kerry's advisers said they were not shrinking their political map, only saving resources for later in the campaign and redirecting ad money to hotly contested states like Florida and Ohio. President Bush's campaign called the strategy a sign of weakness in GOP-leaning territory.
"This whole fiction that they were going to expand the map seems to be falling to the wayside fairly quickly," said Bush campaign strategist Matthew Dowd.
In his new round of advertising, Kerry has significantly increased his spending in several key states while slightly lowering buys for Missouri and Arizona. Voters in both states will still see plenty of ads, just relatively few compared to other battlegrounds.
In Virginia, the Kerry campaign dramatically reduced its ad buy. Last month, he pulled his ads out of Louisiana and Arkansas.
Kerry strategist Tad Devine said the states are still competitive and called the shift a part of the natural ebb and flow of ad strategies.
"We're very pleased with what we've accomplished prior to the convention. We've been able to introduce John Kerry in terms of his biography and agenda to voters in 22 states across the country," Devine said. "In some places, we've finished the first wave of ads and expect after the convention to resume ads in many, if not all, of them."
Bush won Missouri by 3 percentage points in 2000, and it is one of the states Kerry hopes to put in the Democratic column Nov. 2. After Florida and Ohio, Missouri is one of a handful of states considered to be the ultimate battlegrounds.
Arizona is a tougher state for Kerry, but advisers insist it is still a major target. Bush won the state by 5 percentage points, but an influx of Hispanics has given Democrats hope.
The South has always been a longshot for Kerry, a Massachusetts senator with few ties to the region. By adding Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina to his ticket, Kerry hopes to force Republicans to spend money in the South.
Bush is spending heavily in North Carolina now that Edwards is on the ticket. But the latest round of Kerry ads suggest that the Democrat has decided to wait until late in the campaign to determine whether, after laying the groundwork this spring, he can make last-minute push in the South.
"I'm not going to preview our ad strategy," Devine said, "but we expect to compete vigorously in all the states. As to how much, that decision we'll make in the future."
Bush, meanwhile, is dramatically increasing his spending in a handful of states, starting with Florida and Ohio. He won both states in 2000 — and probably has to win them again to serve a second term — but Kerry has made a major investment to put them in play.