- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s executive director is worried about TV campaign ads President Bush and Sen. John Kerry are running, which he says are for too negative.

“I’ve just come from a Democratic meeting, and everyone is just horrified about the negativity out there on both sides,” said Ron Morabito, a veteran of many campaigns.

Mr. Bush’s latest TV ads sharply attack Mr. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, for his vote against a defense supplemental-spending bill for military expenses in Afghanistan and Iraq. The ad is running in several states.

Pennsylvania is the biggest battleground state in the Northeast, offering the winner 21 electoral votes that could determine the outcome of the 2004 election. Only two presidents — Richard M. Nixon in 1968 and Mr. Bush in 2000 — have ever been elected without carrying this state.

Al Gore carried Pennsylvania in 2000, where there are half a million more Democrats than Republicans, by more than four percentage points. But this time, preliminary evidence suggests that the Bush campaign ads, which attack Mr. Kerry as weak on defense and the war on terror, are beginning to define the Massachusetts senator and erode his support. A Quinnipiac College poll showed Mr. Bush leading the senator there by 50 percent to 45 percent.

Some Democrats privately say the early Bush ads are beginning to take their toll, although the Kerry campaign has been airing its own ads in the state, saying that Mr. Bush is misleading America and that Republicans are setting a negative campaign tone with their attack ads.

But Mr. Morabito said the campaign in Pennsylvania hasn’t really begun and that the race will ebb and flow in the months to come.

“This race hasn’t tightened or loosened. Our primary is not until April 27. Basically, people here have not been engaged. The president has been here 26 times since he took office and Kerry has only been here once,” he said.

Mr. Morabito said Mr. Bush’s ads “can have an effect among independents,” but he believes Mr. Kerry’s counter-ads are equally tough and necessary.

“He has to respond,” he said.

Still, he said, “I worry about it if it turns voters off to the point where they don’t vote. My fear as party officer is that we are turning the electorate off.”

In Michigan, another battleground state with 17 electoral votes that Mr. Bush lost, state Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer also said voters are not paying much attention to the race at this juncture.

Mr. Bush has been on the air in Michigan for the past week or more, but Mr. Brewer said Friday, “I haven’t seen any Kerry ads.”

Despite a 6.6 percent unemployment rate in the state, he said Mr. Kerry has “a slight edge in the state and it could go either way, but we’ve got a shot at it.”

“I feel very good about our chances,” he said.

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