At the same time, candidates — in the wake of the Iowa caucuses — are refashioning their campaign messages to shift away from the negative ‘attack’ ads that aired in Iowa. After former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., once considered the front-runners in Iowa, fared poorly in the caucuses Monday night, candidates are rethinking the use of negative campaign ads and attacking other candidates to win over voters. Both candidates ran negative ads in Iowa, which may have helped sink their poll ratings.
“Everything has changed since Iowa,” Joe Trippi, Dean’s campaign manager, told the Associated Press on Thursday. ”It always does.”
Mark Wrighton, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, told New Hampshire Public Television on Jan. 19 that the candidates have launched a “whole new crop of TV ads,” utilizing different tactics intended to appeal to New Hampshire’s voters. Wrighton added that all candidates were working to maximize their airtime and coverage until Jan. 27, when voters will participate in the first primary. Wrighton noted that TV ads focusing on Dean and retired Gen. Wesley Clark were particularly different from earlier ones.
Dean will reportedly spend tens of thousands of dollars on TV, radio and mailings to portray himself as a reformer with a proven record of results, the courage to fight special interest groups, and take unpopular positions, such as opposing the Iraq war, balancing budgets and backing civil unions in Vermont, and reforming the campaign finance system. In speeches, Dean has begun to recast his opposition to the war in Iraq not as an attack on his Democratic rivals but as an example of his courage to stand up for what is right, even if it is unpopular.
Private campaign polls suggest Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who surprised pundits with his big win in Iowa, has a slight lead over Dean in New Hampshire; another poll by the Boston Herald on Wednesday showed Kerry with a 10-point advantage over Dean.
Kerry’s campaign advisers had reportedly prepared ads criticizing his rivals, but the attack ads were shelved for the time being, his aides told the AP, since Kerry’s poll numbers are increasing without having to tear into the other candidates.
Instead, Kerry’s latest ads in New Hampshire emphasize his record of standing up to lobbyists, his military background and experience in Congress as a way to distinguish him from his rivals.
The Kerry campaign is also running ads featuring former New Hampshire Gov. Jean Shaheen, who praises Kerry’s ability to stand up to special interest groups, his integrity and experience with national security issues.
Clark’s media campaign in New Hampshire presses the message that he has greater electability against President Bush while maintaining a positive tone by promoting proposals like his education reform plan. Before Monday, Clark, who skipped the Iowa caucuses to spend more time in New Hampshire, had touted his military credentials and background in foreign policy. But after Kerry’s surprising win in Iowa, Clark tweaked his message to compete with Kerry by portraying himself as a soldier who rose through the ranks to a leadership position. Edwards, like Clark, has also broadcast positive commercials in New Hampshire. His latest ad shows him jogging down a tree-lined street while a voice describes how he stood up to special interests and lobbyists. His ad also states that he is the most capable candidate to take on President Bush.
The price tag of the campaign ad blitzkrieg has reached towering heights. Already Kerry, Dean and Edwards have spent an unprecedented $10 million on ads in Iowa, and the top five candidates are expected to spend close to that amount in New Hampshire by Tuesday’s primary. In addition to New Hampshire’s local TV stations, candidates are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the expensive Boston media market in the final week since most New Hampshire residents watch those stations.
Kerry has spent about $4 million in Iowa and New Hampshire on advertising; Clark, about $2 million on New Hampshire advertising; Dean, at least $3.5 million on Iowa TV and about $2 million on New Hampshire advertising; and Edwards has poured roughly $2 million into Iowa and $1.5 million into New Hampshire stations so far.
The candidates’ ad spending in 2004 contrasts sharply with that of 2000, when the five Republican and two Democrat presidential candidates spent a total of about $40 million on advertising for all of the primaries, according to the Wisconsin Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
This year, the seven Democratic presidential candidates broadcasting commercials have spent an estimated $28 million — and the first primary has yet to take place.