- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2004

KETCHUM, Idaho (AP) — Democratic candidate John Kerry, a target of Republican critics on foreign policy and spending proposals, is launching a TV commercial casting himself as a battle-hardened veteran who can protect the country while dealing with the economy and health care.

“For 35 years, John Kerry has fought for his country,” says the new 30-second commercial, called “Fought for America,” which begins running in 17 states today.

“We need to get some things done in this country: affordable health care, rolling back tax cuts for the wealthy, really investing in our kids,” Mr. Kerry says in the ad. “That’s why I’m running for president.”

The commercial comes as President Bush begins a $6 million effort to define the Massachusetts senator as a big-spending liberal who is soft on terrorism. Mr. Kerry is spending less than a third of that amount on his ad.

The Republican Party yesterday put on its Web site a “Kerry Spendometer” that rings up what it says are Kerry campaign promises costing $1.7 trillion over 10 years and creating a $1 trillion “tax gap,” a charge Kerry aides reject.

“This is a staggering amount of spending,” Ed Gillespie, Republican Party chairman, said yesterday in a conference call with reporters, “and I do think it’s important to put it all in context and let the American people understand just how much spending Kerry proposes and how big a government Kerry would create.”

With the new commercial, Mr. Kerry’s campaign offers its own definition of the four-term senator, showing images of Mr. Kerry in the jungles of Vietnam carrying a rifle and being awarded the Silver Star for heroism.

“John Kerry: the military experience to defend America,” the commercial says.

At the same time, the commercial promises “a new direction for America” with a focus on plans “to create jobs and put our economy back on track.”

Campaign aides said the commercial is aimed at reaching voters weary of attack politics.

“We think the country wants to have a conversation about the things that matter to them,” said campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill.

Bush aides immediately challenged Mr. Kerry on his claim of elevating the tone, arguing his other commercials have been attack ads.

“John Kerry has run a relentlessly negative campaign,” Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said. He disputed Mr. Kerry’s military expertise, saying Mr. Kerry voted against funds for the troops in Iraq.

While Kerry aides said the positive spot was an effort to change the tenor of the campaign, they wouldn’t rule out attack ads in the future.

“There may be something we need to correct the record on,” aide Tad Devine said.

Miss Cahill said the Bush campaign has made a fundamental miscalculation by launching an attack campaign, a move he said is certain to drive up Mr. Bush’s own unfavorable ratings.

“Bush has very high negatives. We think the campaign is running a risk,” Miss Cahill said.

At the same time, private surveys show that Mr. Bush’s effort has driven down Mr. Kerry’s favorable ratings. The new commercial is the beginning of an effort to reverse that trend.

“For most people, they’re just starting to look at this campaign,” Kerry aide Jim Margolis said.

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