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Both campaigns invoke an image: the liberal's liberal

WASHINGTON -- He shows up in GOP radio spots in South Dakota and Oklahoma. His well-known face was plastered on a Republican ad in Alaska. And President Bush invokes the specter of the Massachusetts Democratic senator on the campaign trail, warning against his "liberal" agenda.

Edward M. Kennedy is back -- reclaiming his place as the liberal ghost that haunts Republican nightmares from House races to Senate campaigns to the battle for the White House.

Before the presidential campaign, Kennedy had been settling into elder statesman status on Capitol Hill, negotiating with Republican colleagues on the No Child Left Behind Act and Medicare legislation. In between votes and hearings, the 72-year-old veteran senator could be often seen batting a tennis ball for his Portuguese water dog, Splash, to fetch.

But Kennedy, who took the lead in Congress arguing against the Iraq war and who has been campaigning actively for junior Bay State Senator John F. Kerry, has been resurrected as the nation's liberal nightmare by Republicans. "He's back, and he still gives us apoplexy," said Whit Ayres, a GOP consultant. "He's still a great bogeyman for all conservatives in the country."

In battleground Senate races, Republicans are seeking to tie the Democratic candidates to Kennedy, despite the fact that most of the Democratic contenders are running to the right of their party to compete in conservative-leaning states. Former Alaska governor Tony Knowles, the Democratic Senate nominee, is a supporter of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, which most Alaskans support. But a National Republican Senatorial Committee ad earlier this year says Knowles would be aligned with anti-ANWR Senators Kennedy and Kerry.

"This is the ANWR Caribou. This is an Eastern liberal politician. Do you suppose these have ever met these?" the voice-over in the ad asks, as the viewer sees a caribou and pictures of Kerry and Kennedy -- the latter unflatteringly identified with one of his fuller-faced, pre-diet photos.

"But this is the species Tony Knowles will have to persuade if there is any hope of drilling in ANWR," the ad continues. "If Tony Knowles goes to Washington, he leaves Alaska and joins forces with the Kennedy-Kerry team, who wouldn't know a caribou if it dropped in for a bowl of Boston clam chowder."

In an Oklahoma radio ad, the National Republican Senatorial Committee accuses Democratic candidate Brad Carson of being a big spender, wanting to hike federal outlays "more than Ted Kennedy and John Kerry combined." A South Dakota ad against Senate minority leader Tom Daschle links the Democratic senator to "Teddy Kennedy accusing President Bush of increasing the ranks of Al Qaeda."

Florida Republican senatorial candidate Mel Martinez sent an e-mail to reporters recently ridiculing his Democratic opponent, Betty Castor, for gaining Kennedy's endorsement, while Republicans in South Carolina have sought to link Democratic Senate candidate Inez Tenenbaum to Kennedy. Other candidates have warned voters that Kennedy would be virtually running the US Senate if the Democrats regain the majority in the chamber.

A National Rifle Association television ad warns Kerry that "gun owners know you'd be like Ted Kennedy sitting in the Oval Office." Bush tauntingly calls Kennedy "the conservative senator from Massachusetts" to paint Kerry as an extremist.

Kennedy brushed off the ads and comments. "The label is a badge of honor. In this election, liberals stands for a safer America, more jobs, better schools, and affordable health care for all our people. Republicans can't compete with that," Kennedy said.

Susan Milligan can be reached at milligan@globe.com.

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