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Most expensive TV campaign ad goes for emotions

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  • Most expensive TV campaign ad goes for emotions

    The most expensive TV ad buy of the presidential campaign shows President Bush consoling a teenage girl whose mother died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
    The ad, created by the conservative Progress for America Voter Fund, will run until the election on cable stations and in nine key states at a cost of $14.2 million, said the group's president, Brian McCabe.

    The ad was inspired by a photo of Bush hugging Ashley Faulkner, who is now 16, while campaigning in Lebanon, Ohio, on May 4. The photo, taken by the girl's father, Lynn Faulkner, was widely circulated on the Internet. As Bush shook hands in the crowd, the Faulkners' neighbor told him that Ashley had lost her mom on 9/11. Bush enfolded Ashley in his arms and offered her comfort.

    "In the midst of all those people and all that noise, it was an intimate and personal moment," Lynn Faulkner, a marketing consultant and a Republican, said in an interview. His wife, Wendy Faulkner, an information-systems executive, was in the South Tower on Sept. 11.

    The ad features the photo and Ashley and her father talking about Bush. "All he wants to do is make sure I'm safe," Ashley says in the ad. Lynn says in the ad that he saw in Bush "what I want to see in the heart and soul" of a president.

    Progress for America Voter Fund's eight previous ads have been a mix of attacks aimed at Sen. John Kerry and positive ads on Bush's record. Its most widely seen ad, "Absolutely Incorrect," shows Kerry saying he has never wavered on Iraq and highlights his comment that he voted for a bill to spend $87 billion in Afghanistan (news - web sites) and Iraq before he voted against the final version of the bill.

    McCabe said his group has spent $24.8 million on TV ads, including "Ashley's Story." The new ad will be buttressed by a Web site, E-mails, automated phone calls and 2.3 million brochures will go to voters.

    "Most political messages in October are harsh and negative," McCabe said. "We're going in the opposite direction to ... highlight what everyone knows and likes about President Bush."

    The fund's ad spending since both parties' conventions has exceeded that of other independent pro-Bush groups. Since Labor Day, when the ad wars intensified, The November Fund, financed partly by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and formed to link the Kerry-Edwards campaign to trial lawyers and accuse the lawyers of driving up health care costs, has spent only about $500,000 on ads.

    Progress for America has also, in recent weeks, outspent two of its most prominent liberal rivals. The Media Fund and MoveOn PAC, two anti-Bush groups, have spent about $1.5 million each since Labor Day to run ads in key states.

    On the other side, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, an arm of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, also is joining the ad wars. The Action Fund's endorsement of Kerry was the first for the family planning and abortion-rights group. The Action Fund will spend about $1 million in the final two weeks of the campaign.

    The Ashley ad is one of several in this campaign that have told emotional stories. An anti-Bush group called has spent about $1.3 million on an ad featuring the mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq. She says tearfully that Bush hasn't "been honest with us" about the reasons for the war.

    Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, an anti-Kerry organization, has spent more than $6 million since Labor Day on ads featuring Vietnam War veterans and their wives talking about what they see as Kerry's betrayal of other Vietnam veterans in his opposition to the war after he returned from serving in it.

    Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska, said emotional ads like "Ashley's Story" are effective.

    "One of Bush's strengths is that he's considered to be a warm person. Kerry isn't," she said. "This ad reminds voters about that. It also connects him to the 9/11 attacks and his actions right afterward. That's another of his strengths."

    And the ad could swing at least some undecided voters in Bush's direction, Theiss-Morse said. "What matters most to a lot of people now is whether they can connect with the candidate," she said.

    The latest report filed by the Progress for America Voter Fund, one of the groups called 527s after the section of the IRS code that governs them, covers the period from May 27, when they were organized, through Sept. 30. It shows total fundraising to date of $30.6 million, more than 90% of it in six- and seven-figure amounts from wealthy donors. The largest contributors are two California business executives, Alex Spanos and Dawn Arnall, who have given $5 million each.