- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, with far less money and advertising reach, countered President Bush’s negative ad with one of his own yesterday, accusing the president of “misleading America.”

The ad, which will air for at least a week beginning today in fewer states and fewer media markets than Mr. Bush’s spots, rebuts the president’s claim that Mr. Kerry has proposed a $900 billion tax increase. Mr. Kerry’s ad asks: “Doesn’t America deserve more from its president than misleading negative ads?”

Mr. Kerry has never explicitly called for a $900 billion tax hike, but the Bush campaign says there is no way Mr. Kerry can implement his health care plan and not increase the deficit without boosting taxes by that amount. Kerry campaign officials say they will flesh out his economic plans soon.

The president is entering his second week flooding most media markets in 18 competitive states in a multimillion-dollar advertising onslaught. He unveiled the first negative television ads of the general election campaign Thursday that say the Massachusetts senator is “wrong on taxes” and “wrong on defense,” characterizations that prompted the Democrat to respond.

The attacks on the air are unusual eight months from the Nov. 2 election and indicate just how ugly the campaign could get.

Mr. Kerry has not been on the air anywhere since locking up the Democratic nomination March 2. Instead, he has focused on rebuilding his depleted campaign coffers after an expensive Democratic primary contest. Until Mr. Bush’s ads were unveiled Thursday, the Democrat’s campaign had no imminent plans to go on the air or dip into the $16 million in Democratic Party money available to him.

But Kerry aides say the ad will run in every state where Mr. Bush is running commercials except Washington and Delaware. However, they acknowledge that they will be on the air in fewer markets and at lower levels than the president.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the Interior Department’s inspector general has found no basis for a claim by Mr. Kerry that White House political advisers interfered in developing water policy in the Northwest.

The inspector general said Mr. Bush’s top political adviser, Karl Rove, was not involved in a 2002 decision to divert water from the Klamath River in Oregon to irrigate farms.

The White House called the report a vindication of its approach to water management in the Klamath.

In a statement from his Senate office, Mr. Kerry said he accepts the inspector general’s findings but still questions why a political operative was briefing senior Interior officials about complex resource issues.

“There are too many examples in this administration of politics trumping science, not to be concerned,” the statement said.

In Boston, Mr. Kerry also said the work of the military base-closing commission should be suspended as he warned of a “terrible disconnect” between Mr. Bush’s approach to shuttering installations and the demands on U.S. forces.

The next round of closures are set for 2005, but Mr. Kerry said in a statement that a complete assessment of the military’s needs is warranted before any steps are taken to reduce the number of bases.

The comments were at odds with Mr. Kerry’s vote on Sept. 25, 2001, for base closings.

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