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Ad Watch 1
By Laura McCullum
July 20, 1998
Click for audio RealAudio 2.0 14.4
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ALTHOUGH THE FIRST POLITICAL ADS started in March when DFLer Mark Dayton was shown bungee jumping and playing hockey, only in the last few weeks has the number of ads begun to mirror the increased intensity of the gubernatorial campaign. DFLer Doug Johnson started buying airtime last month with two TV spots, one featuring croaking frogs.

Ad Clip: (Frogs croaking, "Doug...Doug.") Voiceover: With all the rich and famous names running for governor this year, there is one who lives on a budget like yours.

(Listen to entire ad in RealAudio 2.0 14.4)

Clay Steinman: Well, it's cute, you know. The ads are cute. They also are trying to position the candidate as someone who's not a city slicker.
Clay Steinman, who chairs the Communications Studies Department at Macalester College in St. Paul, says the Johnson spots have the same whimsical quality as Senator Paul Wellstone's green bus ads - both were produced by award-winning adman Bill Hillsman. Still, Steinman wonders what frogs have to do with the issues facing Minnesota. He has a similar reaction to Republican Norm Coleman's television ad which has been running this month. In it Coleman is addressing a crowd in what appears to be a rural classroom.
Ad Clip: Together there isn't anything that we can't do. I can remember this picture - it shows hundreds of neighbors moving an entire barn with their hands. Minnesotans can do that - I've seen it in St. Paul.

(View entire ad from our Media Page)

Steinman says Coleman is trying to appeal to rural Minnesotans who may be skeptical about voting for someone from Brooklyn. But Steinman says Coleman's ad gives no indication of his stand on the issues. He says in the early part of a campaign when candidates are trying to establish themselves through their ads, voters get style over substance.
Steinman: I think voters should expect more. I think voters should demand more. I think voters should refuse to vote for anyone who isn't speaking to them intelligently.
The Minnesota Compact - a non-partisan election watchdog group - has developed a campaign-advertising code to monitor whether ads are meaningful and fair. Among the group's standards: the candidate's voice and likeness should be in the ad at least 50 percent of the time, candidates shouldn't distort images of their opponents, and any criticisms should be fully documented. Public affairs consultant Dean Alger, a Compact organizer, says new to the code this year is a reference to ads paid for by political parties and interest groups, which tend to be more negative.
Alger: My prediction is that we are, indeed, going to see quite a flood of outside party-committee ads, and outside interest-group ads, and that oftentimes they will be doing the dirty work for the candidates, and we need to hold them accountable.
Alger says both Republicans and Democrats are already guilty of this. Following the tobacco trial, the Minnesota Republican Party ran ads suggesting Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Skip Humphrey sought outside legal counsel because the firm's attorneys contributed to his campaign. Now the state DFL Party is running spots saying Norm Coleman and the Republicans want to give insurance companies final say over people's medical treatment. The Coleman campaign calls this ad a total fraud. Both spots appear on radio, which Alger believes might be the medium for what he calls "stealth" ads.
Alger: So that maybe they can be a little bit harsher, and a little bit harder-hitting on issues, and so far, the kind of tough charge and counter-charge seem to be happening on radio ads.
Alger notes that the tone of the candidates' ads has been fairly positive up to this point, and he isn't convinced that just because there are five DFL candidates vying for the primary that they'll attack each other in their ads. He expects an improvement over the 1996 US Senate campaign, when Republicans' painting Wellstone as "ultra-liberal" backfired against his Republican opponent. Alger says so far he hasn't found any blatant violations of the Minnesota Compact's advertising code.
Alger: I don't see anything that's truly outrageous yet, but we've just started. Next month we'll see a flood of ads for the DFL candidates, and after that, the floodgates will be open.
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