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Going Wholesale

February 3, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


TERENCE SMITH: The focus of the Democratic nominating race has shifted from one-on-one retail politicking — a staple in Iowa and New Hampshire — to the wholesale politics of a national campaign, with its greater emphasis on television and advertising.

TERENCE SMITH: So far, the striking characteristic of the candidate ads showing in states from South Carolina to Missouri, to Arizona and Michigan, is their tone: Positive, rather than negative, as they often have been in past presidential sweepstakes.

That may be partly the result of the televised attacks in Iowa — call it “mutually advertised destruction”– between former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean…

HOWARD DEAN, TV advertisement: I opposed the war in Iraq and I’m against spending another $87 billion there.

TERENCE SMITH: …and Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt.

RICHARD GEPHARDT, TV advertisement: Did you know Howard Dean called Medicare one of the worst federal programs ever?

TERENCE SMITH: Exit polls showed that many Iowa voters were turned off by the highly negative tenor. Dean placed a weak third and Gephardt, a distant and ultimately disqualifying fourth.

Instead of spending time and money attacking each other, the Democrats have so far been content to criticize President Bush and talk mostly about themselves.

REV. DAVID ALSTON, in TV advertisement for Kerry: The bullets began to hit the side of the boat — the boom, the pow, pow, pow, pow…

TERENCE SMITH: The front-runner, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, is emphasizing his service in Vietnam, featuring testimonials from comrades-in-arms in two different versions of the same spot.

In South Carolina and Missouri, with large African-American populations, the Rev. David Alston attests to Kerry’s heroics.

REV. DAVID ALSTON, in TV advertisement for Kerry: He wants better for America.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: I’m John Kerry and I approve this message.

REV. DAVID ALSTON, in TV advertisement for Kerry: This man would make a great president.

TERENCE SMITH: But in Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma, a white veteran, Del Sandusky, carries that same message.

DEL SANDUSKY, in TV advertisement for Kerry: He had unfailing instinct and unchallengeable leadership.

TERENCE SMITH: Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, the former supreme allied commander, is also selling his years of service. The political newcomer has also been talking about domestic issues, as in this ad that has been airing in Arizona, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Wisconsin and South Carolina.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, in TV advertisement: Everyone talks about families, but what’s Washington done? My tax reform plan will make millionaires pay their fair share and it will put $1,500 back into the pockets of a typical American family.

That’s real. I’m Wes Clark, and I approve this message because it’s time we had a president who worried less about his future and more about yours.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, in TV advertisement: I was born 50 years ago and this was my first home…

TERENCE SMITH: North Carolina Sen. John Edwards uses his boyhood home in South Carolina as a backdrop.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, in TV advertisement: I’m John Edwards, and I approve this message because I believe that when you remember where you came from you’ll always know where you’re going and what you need to fight for — real change that will give today’s families a chance to give their kids a better life. As president that’s what I’ll fight for every day — an America that works for all of us.

TERENCE SMITH: The former front-runner Howard Dean, whose once-flush campaign is struggling amid financial problems, has pulled his advertising off the air for now. The Rev. Al Sharpton is not advertising on television at this point in the campaign. Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who trails the leaders by a wide margin, has been airing this ad in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Maine.

SPOKESPERSON, in TV advertisement for Kucinich: With your vote, Kucinich will lead the world to peace.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH, in TV advertisement: I’m Dennis Kucinich and running for president. Do I approve this commercial? You bet.

SPOKESMAN, in TV advertisement for Lieberman: Only one candidate was clear. We are safer with Saddam Hussein in prison, not in power.

TERENCE SMITH: That’s Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman taking indirect aim at Howard Dean, who said Saddam Hussein’s capture had not made America safer.

SPOKESMAN, in TV advertisement for Lieberman: Only one candidate has refused to cut off funding for our troops — Joe Lieberman. He’s a national leader in the fight against terrorism.

TERENCE SMITH: And that line may remind voters that Kerry and Edwards both voted against the president’s $87 billion Iraq supplemental package.