Dueling Over Drug Coverage

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The CBS News Political Unit is tracking the latest campaign commercials. Steve Chaggaris and Jane Ruvelson analyze dueling ads from the Republican and Democratic national committees on prescription drug coverage for seniors.

The Ads: The Republican and Democratic national committees have launched dueling television spots on the issue of prescription drug coverage. The 30-second commercials, Priority (from the RNC) and Siding (from the DNC) will air in the same nine states: Arkansas, Delaware, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin. The RNC labeled their media buy "substantial" and it has been reported at $7 million. The DNC declined to quantify their buy.

RNC Audio: Announcer: "Under Clinton/Gore prescription drug prices have skyrocketed - and nothing's been done. George Bush has a plan: add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare."
Bush: "Every senior will have access to prescription drug benefits."
Announcer: "And Al Gore? Gore opposed bipartisan reform. He's pushing a big government plan that lets Washington bureaucrats interfere with what your doctors prescribe. The Gore prescription plan: bureaucrats decide. The Bush prescription plan: seniors choose."

DNC Audio: Announcer: "The issue: prescription drugs. George Bush's approach leaves millions of seniors with no prescription drug coverage. None. And Bush forces seniors he does include to go to HMOs and insurance companies for coverage. The National Council of Senior Citizens says, 'The Bush approach is favored by big drug companies and leaves millions with no help.' Al Gore is taking on the big drug companies to pass a real prescription drug benefit that covers all seniors. George Bush? Siding with the big drug companies. The Gore plan: fighting for our seniors."

Visuals for both ads: Priority and Siding both feature pictures of bottles of drugs and plenty of seniors. They also show the candidates on the campaign trail, giving speeches and/or interacting with voters. The RNC's ad shows Gore on a television screen.

Fact Check: Though the RNC's Priority states all seniors will have "access" to a prescription drug benefit, the DNC and the National Council of Senior Citizens argue that millions of seniors will not be able to afford drug coverage under Bush's plan. In addition, while the RNC ad alludes to Bush's prescription drug plan, his campaign has yet to put forth a detailed proposal on the issue. The Bush campaign says he will do so next week.

The Strategy: After Gore's convention speech attempted to focus the presidential campaign on issues, not personalities, the RNC launched Priority, squarely addressing one of the biggies: prescription drug benefits for senior citizens. With this ad and Bush's attempt to reach out to lo-income seniors, the Republicans have stolen a page from the Democrats' playbook.

The issue of prescription drug benefits was largely ignored earlier this year by Bush and the Republicans while Gore and the Democrats ran with it. In fact, Siding is the second ad from the DNC in three months focusing on Gore's prescription drug benefit plan.

Earlier this summer, the Republicans took up the issue with a House GOP bill that would have subsidized private insurance companies that provide drug benefits. More recently, the Republicans put Tennessee Senator Bill Frist - the Senate's only physician - on during prime-time GOP convention hours to talk about prescription drug benefits.

On the heels of the RNC ad launch, the DNC released Siding to counter claims made in the GOP ad and Bush's plan, as well as to reclaim the prescription drug benefit issue. In a press conference Monday, Democratic Party chairman Joe Andrew painted Bush as someone "willing to let the powerful, not the people, dictate his policies," a point emphasized in the DNC ad.