It seems as if George W. Bush's campaign ads are doing him few favors. Whether it was the "going negative" charge generated a couple of weeks ago by an ad criticizing Al Gore's past fundraising practices, or this week's flap over a supposed subliminal message in an anti-Gore healthcare ad, the Republican candidate has reaped more bad press than good responses.
This is disturbing for a couple of reasons.
First, it's sad to see the tactics of campaign media wizards, rather than the intended issue-related point, becoming the message for most of the public. As debate rages over whether Bush operatives deliberately tried to associate the Democrats with "rats," who remembers that the ad was making a valid point about bureaucratic management of healthcare? Such points, about how services are provided and how public money is spent, should be at the heart of this campaign, not pushed to its periphery.
Second, the ad miscues are adding to the impression of a stumbling Bush candidacy. The much-touted "character issue" appears to be slipping from questions of leadership and moral standing toward simple competency. Is a smooth-running campaign predictive of a well-run presidency? The Bush team was a well-oiled machine until recently. It needs to get back on track, and fast.
Damage control should be quick and to the point. The subliminal advertising slip-up (intentional or not) warranted acknowledgment and repudiation right away. Then move on. Time is short, and the country wants, above all, a hard and cleanly fought campaign that defines positions, differences, and strengths.
Mr. Bush, like his opponent, has plenty to offer in that regard, and his stands on key issues like education and Social Security have significant public support, according to the polls. He still has plenty of time to recover momentum and move out from under what should be a momentary ad cloud.
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