TERENCE SMITH: With nearly six weeks still to go before Election Day, this has already been the most expensive advertising war in presidential campaign history; some $250 million spent so far and counting.
To help us analyze the respective strategies of the two campaigns, I'm joined by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and by Ken Goldstein, associate professor of political science and director of the advertising project at the University of Wisconsin. His project is funded by the Pew Charitable Trust which also contributes to the NewsHour's media unit. Welcome to you both.
TERENCE SMITH: Ken Goldstein, give us the big picture if you will: Where the campaigns are concentrating their money and what that tells you about their larger strategy.
KEN GOLDSTEIN: I think the targeting decisions and the ads that we're being seen aired in the now limited number of battleground states, is confirming what we are seeing nationally in terms of poll numbers: That John Kerry is probably behind from somewhere between 3 to 5 percentage points but obviously the race is not over and that it is still focused on three main states.
But let's take a step back for a second. When the advertising air war was started earlier this summer -- earlier this spring, there were 20 battleground states where we were seeing advertising. That shrunk to about 18 battleground states. Now we are seeing advertising in 14 states, and we are really only seeing serious advertising in five or six states with a huge, huge amount of advertising in the big three: Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio, but also significant amounts of advertising in places like Wisconsin, Iowa and also Nevada.
So where we've seen the campaigns leave, that's a sign to us that that state's is no longer competitive. So John Kerry was playing in states like Arkansas, playing in states like Louisiana, playing in states like Virginia and North Carolina. He has either completely pulled out or only has token buys in those state which suggests to us that we don't need to look at the tracking numbers the Kerry campaign is looking at in those states, that those states have gone to the Bush column.
The Kerry campaign has also reduced their buys, although they have not completely deserted Arizona, Colorado and perhaps most crucially Missouri. Missouri in American presidential election history has always been a major swing state, always been a state that tends to mirror national numbers and is a state that tends to go with the winner. But the Kerry campaign has greatly reduced its buys. When we first started tracking this in the spring and early summer, Missouri was one of the heaviest targets - next to Ohio the most ads were aired in markets like St. Louis, or Kansas City; now St. Louis, Kansas City are very, very much at the bottom of the advertising targeting list.
TERENCE SMITH: Kathleen Hall Jamieson what does that say to you in terms of strategy? Is that a suggestion that the Kerry campaign is giving up on a state like Missouri this early?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The Kerry campaign would be well advised to remember that the Gore campaign thought that some states were safe. It turned out they were in play and they went over to the other side. I don't think that campaigns are actually giving up on any state that looks close, although I think we're going to be seeing campaigns pulling in and out of states. My suspicion is that the Kerry campaign is watching and waiting.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Now we have some of the ads that are running currently to look at and sort of get your reaction as to the strategy that they reflect. The first ad is called Wind Surfing. And it came out just today. It's from the Bush-Cheney campaign and it makes some fun of Sen. John Kerry, so let's take a look at that ad.
AD: PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm George W. Bush and I approve this message.
ANNOUNCER: In which direction would John Kerry lead? Kerry voted for the Iraq War, opposed it, supported it, and now opposes it again. He bragged about voting for the $87 billion to support our troops before he voted against it. He voted for education reform and now opposes it. He claims he is against increasing Medicare premiums but voted five times to do so. John Kerry, whichever way the wind blows.
TERENCE SMITH: That with the Blue Danube Waltz in the background. I should note that the Kerry campaign, just showing you how fast this happens, that ad came out earlier today. And just late today, the Kerry campaign responded with its own ad calling the Wind Surfing add tasteless and juvenile at a time when Americans are dying in Iraq. So, pretty fast charge and counter charge, Kathleen.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yes, one of the things that happens in this ad that is problematic for the Kerry campaign is that as you are engaged by the strange image, that does not look highly presidential - of a candidate wind surfing; you are less like likely to ask the questions: Did Kerry actually oppose educational reform and did he vote for the war in Iraq?
This is a classic advertising technique which uses an evocative, interesting, and in this case somewhat humorous visual, in order to ensure that you're not actually analyzing what's being said on the screen. And the Bush campaign is able to use this image without worrying a great deal about the candidate's countercharge because late night comedy has already translated this image into an indictment of John Kerry and the joke's there.
TERENCE SMITH: Ken Goldstein, pretty quick, tit for tat in the space of one day?
KEN GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, it's probably the quickest the Kerry campaign has managed to react to a charge by the Bush campaign so far this cycle. But I agree with Kathleen. I think it is an effective ad and I agree with her that it is an effective ad because it plays to the hymn, to the theme, to the song, to what the Bush campaign has been humming all along, which is that John Kerry is a flip-flopper, and this ad tries to be a little bit humorous and obviously has those very compelling images or not compelling images for John Kerry of him wind surfing in Nantucket in August but it's right out of the consistent Republican Bush-Cheney playbook right from the start, that John Kerry is a flip-flopper.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. Let's go now to another ad. Number two here is from the Kerry campaign. It's entitled "Uninsured." And we'll take a look at it now.
AD: AD SPOKESMAN: The Bush health care record -- health insurance costs up 64 percent, Medicare premiums up by 56 percent; the Bush health care plan: Raise insurance premiums for four out of five small businesses. Over a million more Americans would lose their health insurance coverage. John Kerry: a plan to make health care available and affordable and cut the cost for small businesses, John Kerry, a new direction on health care.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: I'm John Kerry and I approve this message.
TERENCE SMITH: Kathleen Hall Jamieson what is the strategy or what comes through to you when you see that ad?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: There's a tacit rebuttal in this ad to the Republican charge that what Kerry wants to do is put in place a big government plan that will make it much more difficult for you to get what you would want out of health care. When he says: available, affordable and cut business costs, it's trying to hit all those themes without explicitly saying we're rebutting the other side.
This is a classic contrast ad. Kerry is engaging the status quo, which he's attaching to Bush, and suggesting that he has an alternative. You'd like in a campaign for the next stage to be taken as well, which is to say, and Bush has this alternative and my alternative is better because Bush is offering alternative to the status quo. The other thing that the ad does that is classic advertising maneuvering is to take everything that's bad out there that's happened in the current administration and try to attach it to the incumbent.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. Here's a third ad. This is called "Agenda." And it's from the Bush-Cheney campaign. Let's have a look at that.
AD: PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We have come through a lot together. During the next four years, we'll spread ownership and opportunity. We need to make our economy more job friendly, keep American jobs here in America, we must allow small employers to join together to purchase insurance. We must end the junk lawsuits and enact tort reform. We have got to make sure our workers have the skills necessary to fill the jobs of the 20 first century.
I'm George W. Bush, and I approve this message.
TERENCE SMITH: Kathleen Hall Jamieson, that's drawing directly on of course the agenda that the president laid out in his acceptance speech in New York at the Republican Convention, and the themes he has been hitting again and again. And that certainly sounds positive, does it not?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yes, and the most effective advertising reinforces themes that are already out there. A campaign whose message is consistent is much more likely to be a winning campaign. This ad begins by reminding us that we have been through a lot together; the implication being that if you are not happy with the way things are, blame the terrorist attack. It's not my responsibility -- and then by weaving the flag throughout the rest of the ad, holds that terrorism's security image in place even as it hits the themes that forecast the next four years for the Bush agenda.
And all sorts of nice positive words appear on the screen: jobs, ownership. You also see at the end, the agenda that the Bush campaign offers you in print form with a Web address: The implication being there's a lot more substance that we have; we can't give it to you in the ad but if you go to the Web address or get our book, you're going to find it. And Bush throughout the ad is moving from a stump speech through America. You see middle America interjected throughout the ad. And at the end, he is back in the Oval Office.
TERENCE SMITH: Middle America, Ken Goldstein? Sounds like the battleground you are talking about --
KEN GOLDSTEIN: Middle America is where I'm sitting and middle America is where this election is going to be decided. Over 60 percent of Bush ads have talked about national security in some way. This ad I think is interesting because actually most Bush ads have been negative ads, have been talking about John Kerry's record and the clear strategy of the Bush campaign is to try and disqualify John Kerry as an alternative to make it impossible for swing voters to even consider that John Kerry could be a credible president. Having said that, you can't go completely negative all the time and the Bush campaign needs to put enough advertising up for voters to say that Bush himself does have a positive agenda and will be doing something in the future as well.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Here's the fourth and final ad; it's called "Guard," and it's actually sponsored by the Democratic National Committee. So let's take a look at Guard.
AD: PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended; the United States and our allies have prevailed. The economy is strong. The economy is getting better.
AD ANNOUNCER: The Democratic National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertisement.
TERENCE SMITH: Kathleen Hall Jamieson that seems to be turning the topic back to Iraq.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It both turns the topic back to Iraq and segues from Iraq back to the domestic agenda. This ad is effective because it draws on our memory in news of Bush making the statements. We remember Bush landing on the carrier and how we felt at that point. And then it pulls the external world back in with factual statistical data; it also juxtaposes his words about the economy with headlines which suggest poverty up, the uninsured up, wage gap; it's attempting to feature facets of the economy that do not lead to a vote for Bush but instead lead to a vote for Kerry.
It's not featuring those other facets such as home ownership and insurance and low rate of inflation. That would be more favorable to the other side. The other thing that's important about this ad is that when you remember things from news and then draw inferences to the candidate, you're involved in creating the intersection between what you see of Bush and what you see in news.
The most powerful ads work because audiences invest them with their own meaning and their own inferences. That's the way this ad works. And then at the end, it lays up a new alternative, which is that the Kerry campaign is going to center on truthfulness or is he out of touch against the Bush campaign's is he divisive enough to be president? I don't know that the Kerry campaign has decided yet whether it is going to argue not truthful or out of touch; the tag at the end leaves that open.
TERENCE SMITH: Ken Goldstein; Kathleen Hall Jamieson, thank you both for strategizing for us; appreciate it.