WASHINGTON – They have spent millions of dollars and made dozens of accusations, and neither John Kerry's (search) nor George W. Bush's (search) presidential campaigns appear interested in slowing down the pace of television advertisements that assail one another.
President Bush's re-election team launched new ads on Thursday that call Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee and Massachusetts senator, more liberal than Ted Kennedy or Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The release followed the distribution of two new campaign ads by Kerry's team on Wednesday. In one, he excoriates Bush on Iraq and in both tries to define his positions on critical issues facing voters in November.
"My priorities are jobs and health care. My commitment is to defend this country," Kerry says in one ad. In the other, he says he would "reach out to the international community in sharing the burden" in Iraq.
Kerry's 30-second ads started running in media markets in 17 battleground states. They are the largest ad buy so far in his campaign — about $4.5 million worth to run ads over 10 days through the end of April. Already, the campaign had spent $1.3 million for ads that are overlapping the new spots. Kerry's big buy follows first-quarter 2004 fund-raising records that show the candidate earning the largest sum ever for one presidential candidate in one quarter — $60 million.
One Kerry campaign official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the additional money means Kerry is now running even with Bush on the air for the first time. In fact, however, the Bush campaign is being outspent. Liberal independent groups and the campaign are working separately but together to make a formidable opponent to the Bush team.
Still, voters are still trying to get to know Kerry, who has been running ads critical of Bush since March. The campaign calls the latest ad buy the start of the general election.
What voters have learned about Kerry so far they may not like, perhaps because most of it has been coming from the Bush campaign, which has run a series of ads that portray the four-term senator as a flip-flopper, a serial tax-raiser and a soft-on-terrorism lawmaker.
The 60-second Bush ad, now running on national cable networks, quotes several newspaper editorials saying Kerry is waffling and talking out of both sides of his mouth.
The Bush team contends it is not saying anything about Kerry that people don't already know.
"The nonpartisan National Journal magazine ranks Kerry the most liberal member of the Senate" — more than Clinton or Kennedy, two prime targets of GOP disdain.
"Kerry's problem is not that people don't know him. It's that people do," the ad says.
Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton called Bush's ad bogus. He said newspapers nationwide also have said that Bush is trying to mislead the public with his ad campaign.
Steve Schmidt, a Bush campaign spokesman, said the ad simply lays out "Kerry's positions as described by America's leading newspapers."
While Bush's current ads are negative, including one running in media markets in 18 states that assails Kerry on military issues, Kerry has run more than a dozen attack ads against Bush since the fall, primarily in states that held early Democratic primary contests.
Kerry strategist Tad Devine said the campaign is running positive ads now because voters want to hear an optimistic plan for fixing America's ills — not "wholly negative and misleading attacks" like Bush's commercials.
"What we believe is what voters want are answers not insults," Devine said.
Still, there is little need for Kerry to run anti-Bush ads. Democratic-leaning interest groups that the Kerry campaign can't legally coordinate with, such as the Media Fund (search) and the AFL-CIO (search), are doing it for him.
With the new ads, Kerry talks directly to voters. Advisers say future ads will more specifically lay out domestic and foreign policy plans, and a biographical spot is to follow in the coming weeks.
In one ad, Kerry details his priorities: "First, we will keep this country safe and secure. Second, I'll put an end to tax incentives that encourage American companies to ship jobs overseas. And third, we'll invest in education and health care."
The other spot has Kerry laying out his proposal "to change the situation in Iraq," where 100 Americans have died in combat in April, the deadliest month since the U.S.-led invasion a year ago. The ad comes amid decisions by coalition partners Spain and Honduras to withdraw their troops from Iraq.
"I would immediately reach out to the international community in sharing the burden, the risk, because they also have a stake in the outcome of what is happening in Iraq," Kerry says in the ad. "The American taxpayer is paying now almost $200 billion and who knows how many more billions, and we're paying the highest price in the loss of lives of our young soldiers, almost alone."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.