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To Dean, a Bush image is fodder

NASHUA -- Presidential contender Howard Dean plans to air television commercials showing footage of President Bush's landing on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln -- images Bush deployed as a triumphant visual coda to the Iraq conflict but which Dean says are now powerful reminders of a war gone wrong.

With mounting casualties and unrest in Iraq, the images, which include a backdrop banner reading "Mission Accomplished," are increasingly viewed by Bush's political opponents as a liability. Dean is the first Democrat to commit to using them in his ads.

"We're going to put up the aircraft carrier ad and show what his real defense is," Dean said in an interview on Thursday. "We're going to use this footage of him landing on the aircraft carrier . . . to show that he's all talk and no action. And the action he's got us into has cost us 400 lives and thousands of wounded people who will never get their limbs back."

The former governor of Vermont and Democratic front-runner has been among the most outspoken of the candidates in his opposition to the war, lambasting his congressional rivals for voting for the war resolution and railing against Bush's decision to enter the conflict.

Now, Dean hopes to turn Bush's shining moment as commander in chief into a misstep, though some say the move carries the risk of elevating Bush in the process.

"It's a double-edged sword," said Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of political science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "It's giving air time to George Bush, his good images -- in a flight suit, flying onto an aircraft carrier. My guess is that Dean will get some leverage out of this issue -- not as much as if he presented it another way."

A similar tactic worked to great effect in 1988 for Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, who used ads to highlight a photograph of Michael Dukakis riding in a tank and wearing a helmet -- an image that proved a stand-in for what Republicans dubbed the weakness of the Massachusetts governor and that contributed to the whittling away of his once-considerable lead.

Heather Layman, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, declined comment on Dean's plans to deploy ads using the aircraft imagery.

Jay Carson, a spokesman for the Dean campaign, said a date for an ad's airing had not been set nor had the ad been filmed yet.

Dean has already been at the vanguard of less-than-conventional political advertising this season. This month he began airing 30-minute infomercials in Iowa showing an edited version of his town-hall meeting held earlier this year in Sioux City. The method mirrors one used by publisher Steve Forbes in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, as well as lengthy spots Ross Perot used in the 1992 election.

Dean was also the first Democrat to air what many deemed a round of negative ads, which his advisers said were intended to blunt criticism from his rivals over his stances on Medicare, taxes, and foreign policy. Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts plans to launch an advertising blitz in New Hampshire this month.

Asked whether an aircraft carrier ad would highlight Bush's actions rather than how a Dean candidacy might have handled the war differently, Dean responded, "No, the aircraft carrier is: Here's his priorities, and I'll just tell you what mine are."

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