In the Spotlight

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Ad Watch
By Laura McCullum
August 28, 1998

Click for audio RealAudio 2.0 14.4
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A little more than two weeks before the September primary, DFLer Mark Dayton has greatly outspent his opponents on TV spots - some of the candidates haven't even run ads yet. Although the candidates are largely avoiding personal attacks, analysts say the political parties are running the nastier ads.

MARK DAYTON'S TELEVISION ADS STARTED FIRST - way back in March - and have gobbled up the most airtime. Using his personal fortune to establish a media presence, Dayton even alludes to his money in some of the ads - in this one, he takes on HMOs, saying they should be called H-NOs.

Dayton (In Ad): Choose your own doctor? NO. Newest medicine? NO. Advanced treatment? NO. I'm lucky. I can afford to see the doctor I want and get my children the health care they need. I believe you deserve that right, too.

(View entire ad from our Media Page)

In another health-care ad, Dayton advocates mandatory health insurance for all employees, full and part-time. But his ads don't discuss how much that would cost Minnesota businesses, and how Dayton plans to achieve HMO reform. Macalester College communication studies professor Clay Steinman says Dayton owes voters the details.
Steinman: Health care is such a complicated issue, and it's such an important issue to people, that I think that it's only fair that if he's going to promise people the moon, he tells them what kind of rocket ship he's going to build for them.
Public affairs consultant Dean Alger agrees that Dayton needs to offer more specifics, but says Dayton should be commended for running ads with more substance and striking proposals than any other candidate. Dayton has used a catchy phrase in two of his ads - in one, where he plays a hockey goalie, he says if he's governor, "The puck stops here." In another ad attacking large-scale feedlots, Dayton says, "The muck stops here." But Alger says Dayton isn't comfortable enough on camera to give the ads the flair they need - and viewers may pick up on that.
Alger: There's quite a bit of research that suggests just the way you appear on television, your eyes in particular, people start making inferences based on that. And frankly, Mark Dayton in these ads has looked like he's about to bite your nose off (laughs) when he's saying these punchlines, which ought to be said in kind of a humorous fashion.
Alger says DFL-endorsed candidate Mike Freeman, on the other hand, comes across as more sincere in his first two ads that started running this week. Freeman appears in a close-up shot, speaking directly into the camera.
Freeman (In Ad): Terry and I have entrusted our public schools with the most important people in our lives - Katie, Beth and Matt. It's time to take a stand. We need to teach discipline and values like responsibility and respect. And we need zero tolerance for guns or violence in schools.

(View entire ad from our Media Page)

Analysts Dean Alger and Clay Steinman say this ad, like many of the Dayton ads, lacks specifics and doesn't address many of Minnesota's pressing educational issues such as funding, standards, and testing. Alger says the only item Freeman truly takes a stand on is smaller class sizes.
Alger: Frankly, it's a series of very generic value statements that it's hard to find anybody who disagrees with him - dealing with violence in the schools, and we need to teach discipline and values. Terrific, Mike. What in the world does that mean in practice for actual school teachers in actual classrooms? Frankly, this tells me nothing.
Freeman's strategy has been to campaign not against his primary opponents, but against Republican Norm Coleman. In his other television ad - airing in Northeastern Minnesota - he takes a jab at politicians who support public funding for sports stadiums, alluding to Coleman's backing of a new St. Paul hockey arena. But that's about the only attack to be found in the television ads running so far. Radio spots are another story. The latest negative ads are sponsored by the Minnesota Republican Party - in response to an earlier DFL ad criticizing Republicans on health care.
Radio Ad: Just when you thought it was safe to turn on your radio (music from the movie Jaws is heard), the Democrats are back with another negative campaign trying to scare you. The StarTribune says the Democrats have little evidence for their attacks. The Democratic chairman admitted they made the whole thing up. (Sound of screaming.)

(Listen to entire "Jaws" ad in RealAudio 2.0 14.4)

The ad says "leading Democrats" admit their campaign promises will mean higher taxes. That's more than a little misleading - the "leading Democrats" actually refers to gubernatorial candidate Ted Mondale, who has suggested that opponent Skip Humphrey's budget plan will lead to higher taxes - not exactly a DFLer admitting his own plan will boost taxes. Another GOP ad says Humphrey wants to turn back the clock to a time of big government - when Humphrey is actually proposing $1.4 billion in tax cuts. Analyst Clay Steinman says these ads present a dilemna for voters.

(Listen to "New Era" ad in RealAudio 2.0 14.4)

Steinman: These ads seem to me particularly troublesome, because they make it very difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff as far as the truth is concerned. They play with language. I call them wise-guy ads, because they're trying to score points and they're not interested in informing the public.
The radio spots are funded by political parties, so candidates can avoid attacking their opponents and stick to more positive ads.

DFLer Doug Johnson unveiled more television advertising this week, in the vein of his earlier folksy spots that aim to set Johnson apart as the common man from rural Minnesota. The two candidates who haven't appeared yet on TV - Skip Humphrey and Ted Mondale - are planning a last-minute ad-buying blitz starting next week.

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