Democrats Launch Ad Blitz

The Democratic National Committee kicked off this year's political party ad wars with a bang Wednesday when it debuted its first "soft money" issue ad, part of a $25 million commercial blitz. The TV spot, which focuses on Al Gore's plan to reduce prescription drug costs for senior citizens, will air at least through the weekend in 15 states - including several key Midwestern "swing" states.

At the commercial's unveiling in Washington, DNC Chairman Joe Andrew tried to avoid criticism by calling it a "party-building ad" focusing on an issue Americans care about, and explaining that it will benefit all Democratic candidates, not just Gore. To illustrate his point, Andrew was joined at the news conference by House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and eight senior citizens.

Republicans, however, immediately cried foul, charging that Gore broke a pledge he made in March promising that the DNC would not run issue ads "unless and until" the Republican National Committee did.

"It sounds like to me they're laying out a smoke screen to provide an excuse for Al Gore to break his promise," Texas Gov. George W. Bush said.

But the Republicans may be getting ready to launch their own soft money ads. There's word that the RNC is finalizing plans for a new ad campaign and checking out the availability of television time. However, RNC advisers say they'll probably wait a few days to get some more mileage out of their contention that Gore went back on his word.

Regardless of how the DNC plays it, the ad clearly was created to benefit Gore - half the spot specifically touts his prescription drug plan. In fact, the group that produced the ad, Democratic Victory 2000, consists of several political consultants used by the Gore campaign.

The DNC's ad blitz – which won't cost the Gore campaign a dime – comes at a crucial time for the vice president. His pre-nomination campaign funds are drying up, while the party itslef has plenty of money to spend on advertising. In addition, the DNC has been anxious to get these ads out to get the presidential race focused on issues. Democrats figure Gore has the advantage over Bush on several key issues, including prescription drug costs for seniors.

The 15 states where the ad is running were carefully chosen to help Gore in November. The DNC hopes to make inroads in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Mexico and a swath of Midwestern states – Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin – which are shaping up as major battlegrounds. And they hope to fare well in several Southern states where President Clinton had success in the past: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana.

The last three states – Iowa, Oregon and Washington – are states that Gore advisers say they expect to win. The reason to target those states is to tempt Bush to waste money on airtime in states he'll eventually lose.