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Democrats rolling out negative TV ads, Web site

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PHILADELPHIA — Democrats were set to unveil a new TV ad going after George W. Bush and his running mate for a second time in two days as they try to steal some of the Republican media spotlight.

On Sunday, the ad targeted running mate Dick Cheney for his conservative voting record in Congress. On Monday, the attack will hit Bush himself, probably his environmental record in Texas.

The ads come as Republicans open their national convention, a made-for-TV show sure to show Bush and his party in the best possible light.

Despite an unwritten rule against attack ads during the opposing convention, the Democratic National Committee launched its first negative spot in what is sure to be a hard-fought, sharply critical TV ad war.

The ads will air in 17 battleground states and cost more than $3.5 million over the next week — about a million more than the DNC has been spending weekly.

They come as some national polls show Bush widening his lead over Vice President Al Gore, although others show the race is tight. Democrats desperately want to contain any bounce Bush may get from the convention.

The blitz begins with an ad about Cheney, but Democratic officials said new ads about Bush's record will soon replace or crowd out the Cheney spot.

A third ad is set for release Tuesday, probably about health insurance. And other critical spots may be rolled out later this week.

As part of the same aggressive strategy, Democrats launched a new horror-themed Web site, blasting Bush's record in Texas. They bussed Texas Democrats to Philadelphia on Sunday to criticize life under Bush. And they were importing a daily lineup of Congress members and governors to counter the Republican show.

"We're just going to correct his record as the infomercial rolls on," said DNC Chairman Ed Rendell, referring to Cheney. "These are the facts. If the truth hurts, so be it."

The Republican National Committee had planned to respond with negative ads of its own as soon as the DNC, which has been running pro-Gore spots since early June, changed its tune.

But a senior Republican official said the RNC will not return fire because the Bush campaign doesn't want anything to mar a convention designed to be upbeat and feel-good.

Other Republicans agreed with the strategy.

"This is a positive, inclusive message we're putting out," said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif. "We've made a decision not to go into attack mode."

GOP officials will on their response next week after polls indicate whether the DNC spots hurt Bush, the senior official said.

Republicans painted the new ads as a sign of Democratic desperation.

"To go this negative, this early, in the middle of someone else's convention, is a sign of how attack-oriented they are willing to be," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

The Cheney ad focuses on his votes against the Clean Water Act, Head Start funding and the school lunch program. It also mentions his position as executive of an oil services company, advocating less oil production so gas prices could rise.

"What does Cheney's record say about their plans?" the ad asks.

But while much is made of a campaign's decision to "go negative," voters are unlikely to mind a commercial like this, ad experts said.

"We've become so accustomed to a permanent campaign, I don't think anybody's going to be offended," said Kathleen Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. "In my judgment, it's a smart, strategic move."

Bill Benoit, who studies political advertising at the University of Missouri, agreed.

"The backlash will come from Republicans and conservatives," he said. "It won't come from the people they're trying to persuade."

The DNC ads are airing in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland (aimed at viewers in Delaware), Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oregon, Wisconsin and Washington state.

On the Net:

Democrats' Bush Web site: http://www.iknowwhatyoudidintexas.com.