Bush ad blitz attempts to counter early Kerry lead
Michigan is a key swing state for challenger Sen. John Kerry and President Bush. Michiganians can expect to see a lot of them in the next eight months.
LANSING — With Massachusetts Senator John Kerry all but anointed as his Democratic challenger, President Bush revs up his 2004 re-election campaign today by rolling out a TV ad blitz in Michigan and 16 other key states that focuses on his ability to best lead the nation facing major economic and national security challenges.
The advertising campaign is the opening salvo in what promises to be a bitterly contested battle that in Michigan is likely to revolve around the loss of manufacturing jobs, the war in Iraq and its aftermath, and contentious social and cultural issues, such as gay marriage.
To counter, the internet-based Democrat political action committee MoveOn.org planned to run a five-day package of TV ads attacking Bush in the same 17 states.
While Michigan will be but one battleground, it could be an important one. Michigan has a well-deserved reputation over the last half-century for being a swing state. But it has not voted for a Republican for president since 1988, when the president’s father won.
The latest Detroit News/Mitchell Poll shows the president trailing presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry among likely voters. The statewide survey, conducted last Thursday though Monday, shows Kerry with a 46-40 lead over Bush.
And the Bush camp has watched during the last six weeks as Kerry has grabbed headlines by winning the vote in Michigan and all but three of the 30 states that have cast votes in Democratic primaries or caucuses.
Kerry has stayed with his twin campaign themes: Bush has been at the helm while 2.3 million U.S. jobs — including 175,000 good-paying Michigan manufacturing jobs — have evaporated; and that the war in Iraq was waged on faulty premises and that the Bush administration’s go-it-alone war policy is not working.
To speak to Michigan’s main concerns and counter Kerry’s early lead, the Bush campaign has assembled a treasure-trove of assets.
One is the sheer power of incumbency. Wherever Air Force One ventures the media is sure to follow. Bush has raised an eye-popping $150 million for the campaign that must be spent before his party’s late August nominating convention. His strategists will use that money to paint Kerry as another Massachusetts liberal who would raise taxes, weaken the nation’s war on terrorism and continue to flip-flop on his positions on the major issues.
Bush’s extraordinarily early general election TV ads show how high he views the stakes as he has watched his approval ratings drop to the lowest point of his presidency.
One of the Bush ads on the economy — identified by six of 10 Michigan voters as the biggest issue facing the state where unemployment is at 7.2 percent — declares: “America is turning the corner. Rising to the challenge.”
In yet another ad, Bush says, “as the economy grows, the job base grows and somebody who’s looking for work will be more likely to find a job.”
Countered Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party: “You can’t lead the country if you have been misleading the country (on Iraq and the economy),” he said. Hollowell added that the campaign is suddenly in high gear. “The campaign already is in a general election mode in Michigan.”
After losing to Al Gore by a 51-46 percent margin in Michigan in 2000, Michigan Republican State Chairwoman Betsy DeVos vows the president will win here this time because of his “record and vision” and the state party’s “return to grass-roots fundamentals.”
Michigan Democratic Party Executive Director Mark Brewer, who was to be joined today by Michigan State AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney at a Lansing news conference to blast the Bush administration, gave an early preview of his party’s tactics: “Bush talks about steady leadership,’ but what we have seen in Michigan is a steady loss of jobs, a steady loss of health care, a steady rise in poverty levels and that is what we will stress going into the fall campaign,” he said.
But there is no doubt that Kerry begins the campaign far behind in fund raising. After Tuesday’s coast-to-coast primary victories, Kerry appealed for money, as did MoveOn, an Internet-based Democrat political fund-raising committee.
“Celebrate our victory with a donation of $50 so that we’re prepared for the fight ahead,” Kerry wrote to donors.
Kerry reported $2.1 million in cash at the end of January, the latest figures available from the Federal Election Commission. Meanwhile, after his expenditures to date, Bush has about $100 million in the bank with considerable additional funding likely to flow into his campaign in the months just ahead.
Pollster Steve Mitchell said Michigan will again be a battleground state this year. “And I expect the race will be extremely close,” he said.
He also said consumer activist Ralph Nader is a potential spoiler in the race should he land a ballot spot as an independent candidate. He polled 4 percent support in the latest survey, half of it from Democrats.
National polls also forecast an extremely close contest. Bush and Kerry were statistically tied in a CBS News poll last week.
Kerry had no TV advertising before the Feb. 7 Michigan caucus, which he won with 52 percent of the vote. He didn’t need to spend the money because he already had unbeatable momentum. But he’s expected to eventually hit jobs, the war, and other issues on airways here.
Meanwhile, organization for the ground war is under way. Bush, who has visited Michigan a dozen times as president, has a campaign office in Southfield headed by John Dunagan, dispatched from Washington, D.C. It’s one of Bush’s first headquarters in any state.
Matthew Dowd, Detroit-born chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney campaign, said Wednesday that Kerry’s voting record on auto fuel standards and economic positions that Republicans contend are anti-auto industry “obviously will be part of the discussion” in Bush’s Michigan campaign.
Kerry’s pre-caucus campaign was co-chaired by ex-Gov. James J. Blanchard and Dan Mulhern, husband of Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Kerry has not named his Michigan general election team.
U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, former secretary of state, chairs Bush’s Michigan campaign. Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and Attorney General Mike Cox are co-chairs.
Meanwhile, Bill Ballenger, who edits the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, marveled Wednesday that the presidential combatants have been determined at this early stage.
“In the history of American politics, there has never been a general election campaign that will be as long as this one — eight months. Unbelievable,” Ballenger said. “The candidates have to be afraid of overkill. Maybe they might want to come in with a well-orchestrated wave of ads in the beginning and then back off a little.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. You can reach George Weeks at (517) 371-3660 or email@example.com.
By George Weeks and Charlie Cain / Detroit News Lansing Bureau