WASHINGTON (AP) _ Al Gore touts his experience in a new TV ad, but his advisers have put off _ for now _ a sharper commercial questioning whether George W. Bush is up to the job of president.
In a subtler approach, the vice president's team plans to continue questioning Bush's credentials from the campaign trail while staying positive over the airwaves, at least for the moment.
Not so for Bush, who begins airing a tough new ad Wednesday accusing Gore of ``bending the truth,'' a departure from what has been an overwhelmingly positive ad campaign.
Gore's new ad, also being released Wednesday, opens with a quick review of his life.
``He has the experience to be president,'' an announcer says. ``A life of service, from the Army in Vietnam to the Senate, where he broke with his own party to support the Gulf War.''
It then ticks off a series of issues: improving education, paying down the national debt, cutting taxes for the middle class and saving the environment.
Companion ads being paid for by the Democratic National Committee are much harsher, hammering Bush's record as Texas governor. And the Gore campaign still plans to air its direct attack on Bush's readiness for the job by the weekend. One strategist said it may air in some markets as early as Wednesday, even though the campaign had not yet officially released it.
In TV ads and on the stump, both campaigns are trying to strike at the heart of voter concerns about the opposition. Polls have consistently found that voters worry about Gore's truthfulness and Bush's experience.
But most campaigns prefer to deliver a positive TV message in the closing days. Typically, it's the candidate who is behind who attacks at the end.
Polls show the race even or Bush slightly ahead, and the Texas governor and his troops have talked confidently about his chances next Tuesday. But the decision to go negative suggests they may harbor concerns.
``You go on the attack when you're worried about your opponent coming up,'' said Darrell West, who studies political advertising at Brown University. ``What this tells me is he expects the race to stay competitive all the way to the end.''
Strategist Karl Rove essentially agreed. ``It's close enough that we can't let it dissipate, and the way to make sure it doesn't dissipate is to counterpunch,'' he said.
Both sides also continue to adjust their state-by-state advertising strategies. The Gore campaign began airing its first ads in Omaha, Neb., where TV stations broadcast into western Iowa. Bush responded with his own ads for Omaha, underscoring the importance of Iowa. Nebraska itself is considered safely in the Bush column.
The new Bush ad opens by recounting a Gore flub. He said a certain arthritis medicine cost his mother three times as much as it cost for his dog, but Gore aides later conceded that the figures came from a congressional study, not his family finances.
The ad suggests that if Gore will make up stories about his dog, he'll make up stories about Social Security: ``Now Al Gore is bending the truth again,'' the announcer says.
Gore ads have questioned how Bush can give some $1 trillion to younger workers to invest in private accounts while still paying current benefits. Bush's ad notes that there is a $2.4 trillion Social Security surplus.
The Bush ad concludes with a video clip from a debate during the primaries where Gore says he's never said anything that was untrue. The announcer responds: ``Really?''
West suggested that personal attacks make sense now, given that the nation seems divided over the substantive issues that separate Bush and Gore.
``They've gotten all they can get out of substance. They need to distinguish themselves on personal qualities,'' he said. ``Undecided voters are more likely to make up their minds on personal qualities than the issues.''
But Gore advisers jumped on Bush for the attack; he had promised to run a positive campaign.
``How can Bush bring civility to Washington when he can't even bring civility to his own faltering campaign?'' said Gore deputy campaign manager Mark Fabiani.
The Bush campaign is spending $11 million in the last week to air this ad and a second, more positive commercial, in 20 states. That is complemented by a 22-state, $8 million effort by the Republic National Committee. All of the RNC ads accuse Gore of being an exaggerator.
Meanwhile, the low-budget, wild card campaign of Ralph Nader unveiled a new, satirical ad of its own, only its second commercial of the year. It parodies a Monster.com commercial featuring children talking directly to the camera about their dreams:
``When I grow up I want the government to have the same problems it has today,'' says one. ``I want to vote for the lesser of two evils,'' says another. It ends with an announcer asking, ``Is this what you want from your government? Or do you want something better for yourself and the next generation?''