Bush paints himself as leader with new, sunny ads

WASHINGTON - New TV ads began airing Thursday in four key states, portraying George W. Bush as the man who can unite an already peaceful and prosperous America and tackle its toughest remaining problems.

The Bush campaign has pledged to run a positive TV ad campaign this fall and these spots are about as sunny as they come.

''Once in a hundred years our nation has this chance - to be at peace, to be prosperous, to do something good with it all,'' a soft-spoken woman says in one of the spots. ''This is the time to tackle the tough things.''

The ads will rotate on stations in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington state. They will continue until at least July 30, the eve of the Republican National Convention. The run is costing the Bush camp about $3 million.

Over that period, a typical TV viewer will see the ads 10 to 13 times, according to tracking by Democratic officials.

The words differ from ad to ad, but the themes of leadership and opportunity are the same. Each includes the same soft, easy music and many of the same faces and families in moments from everyday American life - baseball games, porch swings and classrooms.

The ads don't make a hard pitch for Bush's candidacy or mention any of his specific ideas but suggest that the nation is at a point where it can tackle tough problems. Social Security, education and the military are mentioned.

One ad opens with pictures of a baby and parents. ''A lot of new Americans arrived today. They were neither Republican nor Democrat.'' Each ad sprinkles kids' faces throughout. There are senior citizens singing around a piano as Social Security is mentioned.

It's all about creating a positive feeling, which the campaign hopes will be translated to Bush.

But if people feel so good about America, why not stick with Al Gore, vice president for the past eight years?

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who studies political advertising, likened the new Bush ads to President Reagan's 1984 ''Morning in America'' ad campaign, an optimistic look at the nation's future.

''These are the kind of ads you ordinarily expect from an incumbent who's ahead in the polls,'' said Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

They make sense for Bush, she said. With the economy soaring it would be foolish to try to tell voters that there are problems. But the risk is that voters will see the spots and decide that Gore is the right leader for these times.

''It can be a very useful ad strategy, as long as the viewers fill in what you want them to fill in,'' she said.

The Gore campaign responded that Bush is right about this being the time for leadership but wrong about who can provide it.

''His priorities in Texas have shown him to be on the side of special interests rather than working families,'' said spokesman Doug Hattaway. ''That's not the kind of leadership we need to build on our prosperity and our progress.''

These are the first Bush for President ads since March, when the Texas governor wrapped up the Republican nomination.

But while Bush's own campaign has been off the air, the Republican National Committee has been airing commercials that star him. In mid-June, the RNC spent about $5.4 million over two weeks to air an ad in 17 states on his Social Security plan. And an RNC commercial on Bush and education is now airing in 20 states.

The Democratic National Committee is in the middle of an ad campaign of its own. It's spent more than $16 million since early July on ads promoting Gore on such issues as victims' rights, the patients' bill of rights and prescription drugs for Medicare.

On Thursday, the DNC began running a modified version of a Father's Day spot, which features a biographical depiction of Gore as son and then father.

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