On Politics / David Postman
Early ads show state will matter
Four years ago, I wrote about the importance of the Democratic primary because of Bill Bradley's decision to bet it all here. That brought this phone message:
"Hi. Interesting article about the state's primary suddenly being a big deal. You must be an idiot. There's no big deal. You're so stupid. It's no big deal for the rest of the country what Washington votes on this. Give me a break. What an idiot. I guess it makes you feel important to write something like suddenly it's a big deal when it's no big deal. God. What an idiot." (For the record, it did not sound at all like Al Gore.)
But this week, no less of expert sources than the president's re-election campaign and the most prominent anti-Bush political committee made it clear Washington is worth fighting for in the 2004 presidential election.
The Bush campaign began its first television ads Thursday on national cable channels and on broadcast networks in about 15 states. Those buys on the networks essentially serve to identify which states the campaign sees as swing states.
Same for MoveOn.org. The liberal group also began airing ads Thursday. The group picked 17 states, including Washington, as "battleground states."
Both sides look at states where the finish between Bush and Gore was close, Florida being the most obvious. Everyone seems to agree that states such as Ohio, Iowa, Arizona, New Mexico and Oregon classify, too.
But there are different calculations to determine swingability.
Washington may be best described as a cusp swing state. Gore beat Bush by 5 percent here. Ralph Nader got 4 percent.
Also arguing against full-on swing status is history. A Republican presidential candidate hasn't won in Washington since Ronald Reagan's re-election in 1984.
Media coverage of the president's ads focused on controversy surrounding the campaign's use of Ground Zero images in the commercials. Campaign officials were quoted as saying they expected the controversy.
So why do it? Perhaps because the one area in which polls show Bush with a strong lead over Democrats is his handling of terrorism. Even the focus on the search for weapons of mass destruction and faulty intelligence hasn't seemed to shake that, so it's not surprising Bush strategists figure he would survive claims of trading on the 9-11 tragedy.
"We believe the two driving and most important issues that will be faced in this election are the issues of the war on terrorism and the economy," Matthew Dowd, Bush's chief campaign strategist, said in an interview. And 9-11 was a pivotal moment in both those issues, he says.
The World Trade Center images are brief. The first round of ads is an introduction of sorts.
"We have eight months to Election Day and you obviously have a long dialogue," Dowd said.
Step one was to unveil the slogan, "Steady leadership in times of change." This is not the normal tack of an incumbent arguing the country is better off than it was four years ago. There is an inherent acknowledgement of problems and the introduction of the argument that the best way to handle those problems is by sticking with Bush, not voting for John Kerry as the agent of change.
"We are very cognizant that we are in times of change," Dowd said.
Seattle Times chief political reporter David Postman can be reached at 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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