Sen. John Kerry is planning a hard-hitting presidential campaign between now and November that will allow no trip by President Bush to go without comment, nor any attack from the Bush-Cheney campaign to go unanswered.
“We have no illusions about the Republican attack machine and what our opponents have done in the past, and what they may try to do in the future. But I know that together, we are equal to this task. I am a fighter,” the Massachusetts senator said Tuesday night after securing the Democratic presidential nomination by capturing nine of the 10 primaries and caucuses at stake.
Between now and the summer, though, Mr. Kerry has one overriding job: raise and spend money.
“Fund raising and the race to define your opponent before he defines you — that’s what it’s all about,” said one Democratic strategist yesterday. “In part it means beefing up for a nationwide campaign. As of 4 o’clock this afternoon, Democrats won’t have the ability to use the primary to define President Bush. Now it’ll be up to [Mr. Kerry] and the surrogates.”
Sen. John Edwards, Mr. Kerry’s last major rival for the nomination, dropped out of the contest yesterday, leaving Mr. Kerry without the coverage that accompanied the race.
With Mr. Bush sitting on a huge campaign treasury and buying his first television advertisements of the 2004 campaign, Mr. Kerry must find a way to compete. That means countering with ads attacking the president and defending himself, and raising money to pay for them.
Mr. Kerry called for donations during a speech in Orlando, Fla., yesterday.
“George Bush has about $200 million, and he’s going to start advertising tomorrow. We need to be able to answer him,” Mr. Kerry said. “We need to get Democrats all across this country, independents, Republicans who want change, go to Johnkerry.com and start sending $10, $20, $50, $100.”
His campaign reported raising $1.2 million in less than 24 hours since the end of the Super Tuesday contests. That breaks the record of $800,000 raised in 24 hours by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean last year and the $1 million raised by Republican Sen. John McCain in 2000.
Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Kerry opted out of the public-financing system for the primaries, meaning that he is allowed to raise and spend as much money as he can.
And though he is dwarfed by Mr. Bush’s available funds, Mr. Kerry will benefit from surrogates running ads on his behalf.
The Democratic National Committee has promised to raise enough money to ensure that Democrats have a TV presence throughout the spring, and groups such as MoveOn.org, the liberal Internet juggernaut, also plan to counter Mr. Bush’s ads with attacks of their own.
The MoveOn.org Voter Fund, a 527 organization, so named because of the section of the tax code that governs them, plans to spend $1.9 million over five days beginning today, running commercials in 17 states.
Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said yesterday the campaign will use the primaries and caucuses in the remaining 21 states as a basis for traveling the country and making the case against Mr. Bush.