Wednesday, October 20, 2004

'The Hug' becomes a TV ad for Bush



By Maggie Downs
Enquirer staff writer

[photo]
Ashley Faulkner is comforted by President Bush in Lebanon on May 6.
Provided
MASON - At the Faulkner household, it's known as "The Hug."

Now the embrace between President Bush and then-15-year-old Ashley Faulkner has turned into something more than just a personal moment.

It's also the most expensive TV ad campaign of the presidential election.

The commercial, unveiled Tuesday by the Progress for America Voter Fund, will run on cable stations and in nine states - Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Missouri - at a cost of $14.2 million. Among the group's major contributors are Reds owner Carl H. Lindner and Cintas chairman Richard T. Farmer.

The 60-second spot goes hand-in-hand with 2.3 million direct mailings, e-mails, phone calls and a Web site.

It centers on Ashley, whose mother, Wendy Faulkner, was killed in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Now 16, the Mason High School student is poised to be one of the prominent figures in the last two weeks of the presidential campaign, even though she's still too young to vote

The ad details the events of May 6, when Ashley, her father, Lynn Faulkner, and neighbor Linda Prince waited eagerly to shake the president's hand during a campaign stop at the Golden Lamb Inn in Lebanon.

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As the president approached, Prince said to him, "Mr. President, this young lady lost her mother in the World Trade Center."

Bush stopped in his tracks. "The smile on his face went away, and the festive mood changed instantly," Prince said.

"You could see those words hit him so hard - so suddenly."

The president drew the girl to his chest and held her.

Lynn Faulkner held his new digital camera in the air and snapped one frame in the hopes of getting a picture for the family photo album.

"It wouldn't have surprised me if I had gotten his shoes or the sky or something else," he said.

But the candid photo turned out clearly.

The picture was sent to a few family friends, then ran in The Enquirer and spread wildly over the Internet. That's how the Progress for America people found the family and approached them this summer.

"People can immediately see in that photo an authenticness," Lynn Faulkner said. "I think that's why the image continues to travel."

The Faulkners - along with Prince - agreed to be part of the ad shot at their Mason home in late July.

"Brian (McCabe, the group's president) told us they were really excited about sending positive messages instead of ending on a negative note," Faulkner said.

In the ad, Ashley Faulkner says: "He's the most powerful man in the world, and all he wants to do is make sure I'm safe, that I'm OK."

A new TV ad for Democratic candidate John Kerry also uses the relative of someone who lost a loved one in the terrorist attacks. Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband was killed on Sept. 11, says: "I want to look in my daughter's eyes and know that she is safe, and that is why I am voting for John Kerry."

Faulkner said he wrestled with potentially politicizing his daughter's life, but two things made him feel better about the commercial.

One is that his wife had been a fan of Bush. Four years ago, she attended a rally in Blue Ash with Ashley and Prince.

"This is something she would have approved of," Faulkner said.

Also, he doesn't feel the ad is very political.

"We're not attacking anyone, saying Kerry is a bum or whatever. We're just saying this is what happened to us, and I don't think that's terribly political," he said.

The teenager also had final say about whether to do the commercial. "Because she is an informed, politically astute young woman ... it was up to her," her father said.

Ashley decided she wanted people to know her story.

"Most people haven't had the opportunity to stand 18 inches from George Bush and speak to him and form an opinion, and we did," Lynn Faulkner said. "What we're trying to do is tell anyone who is interested what our feelings were. That's what our TV commercial does."

That spontaneous hug might also help Wendy Faulkner's legacy. The ad's Web site links to the Web site of the Wendy Faulkner Memorial Children's Foundation, which distributes clothing, toys and other goods to missions in the Philippines and Africa.

Most of all, the moment continues to help Ashley, said her father.

"When (Bush) wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to his chest, she really did show more feeling and more pain than she had in the past three years. She said it was one of the first times she had felt safe since her mother's murder," he said. "That event was like a special little private gift to her."

The Associated Press contributed. E-mail mdowns@enquirer.com




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