As the battle of TV commercials heats up in the 2004 presidential race, I can't help but be reminded of a similar situation eight years ago when President Bill Clinton was challenged for re-election by Republican Bob Dole. Like this election, the airwaves heated up early in that campaign. Unlike this one, the ads eight years ago seemed to all come from the Democratic side. And it was those ads attacking Dole that suggest what's good for the 1996 goose may be good for the 2004 gander.
Back then, the Democrats' brilliant campaign strategy featured a series of early TV attacks linking Sen. Dole to the increasingly unpopular Newt Gingrich. The pair was labeled the "Dole/Gingrich" team, even though Gingrich was U.S. speaker of the House and not Dole's vice-presidential running mate.
I'm sure Dole remembers. To this day, he refers to those ads as having done more than anything else to prevent the building of any real momentum in his quest for the White House.
Dole would be the first to say that Gingrich's image problems were much the result of a bum rap from the media. At the same time, the skilled and affable GOP veteran would also likely agree that it was a smart ploy by Democratic strategists, who well knew that just about anything is fair in war and politics.
That brings us to 2004. Just as Dole seemed unable to distance himself from Gingrich, it seems that John Kerry has an inextricable link with fellow Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. For better or worse, Kennedy as a political personality rouses passionate feelings among many voters. So when will the Bush campaign take off the gloves and start airing "Kerry-Kennedy" ads in moderate, swing-vote states?
So far, Kerry has gotten off light with a GOP ad campaign that barely lands a glancing blow to his rather prominent chin. Saying that Kerry wants to increase taxes or is soft on national security is all fine, but everyone expects nothing less from a Democratic candidate in the first place. Soon enough, these words get all mangled and twisted around, the Democrats and their friends start talking about how America just can't take any more of the Bush White House, and eventually, everyone's eyes start to glaze over, and the pundits declare the Republicans' tack as just "politics as usual, starting early."