Sunday, October 22, 2006

Bush a political weapon in campaign ads -- for Democrats

It’s a case of ‘Where’s W?’ as Republicans dare not mention unpopular president in their ads.
By Ken Herman
Austin American-Statesman
WASHINGTON BUREAU
Thursday, October 19, 2006

WASHINGTON — Democrats are spending good money these days to put bad pictures of President Bush on television.

The images are grainy and spooky — and, in one case, cartoonish — but at least Democrats are mentioning Bush.

In the Republican ad world, it’s a case of “Where’s W?” as Republican candidates seem to have forgotten that one of their kind lives in the White House.

And in at least two races, Republican candidates are using ads to distance themselves from their president and their party.

“It’s an amazing contrast with 2002,” said Joel Rivlin, deputy director of the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project, which found that a staggering 81,922 ads mentioned Bush in the 2002 midterm elections.

Fewer than 1 percent of those references were negative, and that included Democratic ads.

In 2002, “President Bush was the leading man of political ads,” Rivlin said.

This year, he is the villain or, at best, the invisible president.

Cases in point: Today, Bush will raise money for two embattled Republicans who have not approved any messages that mention the president.

In Pennsylvania, Bush will be with Rep. Don Sherwood, a four-term member whose re-election chances were complicated by a lawsuit, settled out of court, filed by a former mistress who accused him of choking her.

Later, Bush will be in Richmond, Va., with Sen. George Allen, another Republican incumbent who, due to a racially insensitive comment he made this year, has found himself in a much closer contest than he expected.

In addition to not mentioning Bush in his ads, Allen ignores Bush on his Web site.

By contrast, Jim Webb, Allen’s Democratic foe, uses an ad called “Follower” to reinforce the Bush-Allen link. The ad uses unflattering video of Bush saying, “We’ll stay the course in Iraq” and notes the war’s estimated $318.5 billion cost.

Next is video of Allen saying, “I very much agree with the president. We need to stay the course.”

In Maryland and Rhode Island, Republicans are distancing themselves from the president and also their party.

“We’ve got problems in both parties,” Lt. Gov. Michael Steele of Maryland, the Republican nominee for an open Senate seat, says in an ad. “Education. Republicans built a system that teaches to a test. (Democratic nominee) Ben Cardin and Democrats put bureaucracy ahead of our kids. Some Republicans forget folks still climbing that ladder. Cardin and Democrats just raise their taxes.”

Cardin is eager to remind Maryland voters that Steele, who never mentions his party affiliation in his ads, is a Republican and a Bush supporter. A Cardin ad includes a clip from Steele’s glowing words about Bush at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

“Recruited by Bush and Cheney,” the Cardin ad says of Steele.

In Rhode Island, Sen. Lincoln Chafee’s ads highlight his differences with his fellow Republican in the White House.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in an ad supporting Chafee’s Democratic opponent, Sheldon Whitehouse, said the Republican-led Congress voted “against holding George Bush accountable on Iraq.”

Chafee responded with an ad noting that he was the only Republican senator who voted against the war.

“Sheldon Whitehouse says a vote for Chafee is a vote for Bush,” the Chafee ad says. “It’s flat-out false, and the record proves it. . . . Lincoln Chafee stood up to the president on Iraq. And he’ll stand up to Sheldon Whitehouse’s false attacks.”

In two Ohio races in which Republican incumbents are ignoring Bush, the Democratic contenders are using ads to mock the president.

An ad for Rep. Sherrod Brown, challenging Sen. Mike DeWine, opens with video of DeWine saying, “We all have to work together. Democrats, Republicans.” It segues to a grainy photo of Bush and DeWine as children sing, “The more we work together, the happier we’ll be.”

As the camera zooms in, words on the screen note that DeWine has voted with Bush 92 percent of the time.

As the kids sing, “Your friends are my friends, and my friends are your friends,” the words on the screen say “Tax breaks for oil companies” and “Tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas.”

DeWine ignores Bush and the Republican Party in his ads, opting instead to position himself as an “independent fighter for Ohio families.”

Bush turns up as a goofy cartoon character in an ad for Democrat Bob Shamansky, who portrays Rep. Pat Tiberi as a rubber-stamping yes man for Bush.

“Pat Tiberi, how about tax cuts for big oil?” an animated version of Bush asks as he hands paperwork to an animated Tiberi.

“Yes!” says the animated Tiberi, wielding an oversized rubber stamp that he also uses to endorse Bush’s calls for “Quagmire in Iraq.”

Shamansky, in a voice-over, closes by saying he approved the message “because we don’t need yes men; we need a change.”

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