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Ad Watch
By Laura McCallum
September 8, 1998
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With less than a week to go until the primaries, the candidate who's leading in the polls - DFLer Skip Humphrey - has finally started running television spots, and DFLer Ted Mondale came out with the first candidate attack ad in the race.

LAST-MINUTE DFL-PRIMARY ADS ARE BLANKETING the airwaves, filling the television news ad holes and clamoring for primary-voters' attention. Although one might expect the five DFL gubernatorial candidates to run ads distinguishing themselves from their primary opponents, their advertising has largely focused on issues, and in some cases, positioning themselves to run against Republican Norm Coleman. DFLer Ted Mondale is doing that with one of his latest ads.

Ad clip: Who thinks we'd all be safer by changing the law and letting almost anyone carry loaded, concealed handguns? Allen Quist? (Sound of gunshot) No, it's Norm Coleman. Who would take our tax dollars out of public schools and give them to exclusive private schools? Allen Quist? No, it's Norm Coleman.

Dean Alger: This is the first stark candidate attack ad in election '98 in Minnesota.

(View entire ad from our Media Page)

Public affairs consultant Dean Alger says Mondale's ad violates the campaign advertising code developed by the Minnesota Compact, an election watchdog group. The code asks candidates to use their voice or likeness in at least 50 percent of the ad, so voters will associate the candidate with the attack. In Mondale's ad, he only appears in the closing shot.

As far as the substance of the ad's claims, Alger says the truth appears to lie somewhere in between Mondale's attacks and Coleman's positions on concealed weapons, education, and abortion. For example, Coleman first came out in support of concealed-carry legislation that would give any "law-abiding citizen" a permit, then later clarified his position to back a more moderate proposal.

Alger: Frankly, both sides are a little bit misleading on this. Part of the problem with Mr. Coleman is a general problem - he's fudged on all kinds of issues and has not been clear.
Aside from the ad's content, its images are intriguing to analyst Clay Steinman. The chair of Macalester College's Communications Studies Department thinks the video is more extreme than the narration.
Steinman: In the first part of it, he shows a gun firing into a crowd on a city street! In the second part of it, he shows us a schoolhouse that looks like it's set before World War II - it doesn't even have a dial phone. It has one of those phones you have to crank to get someone!
Steinman says the ad seems to be subtly saying if Coleman's educational views prevail, Minnesota's schools will be set back 50 years. At the same time Mondale is running the Coleman attacks, he's also running a pro-Mondale ad, citing his endorsement by the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Analyst Dean Alger says that's a strategy that worked for the Clinton campaign in 1992, pairing negative ads with more positive spots. Since the Mondale ads started airing, DFLer Mike Freeman has also come out with a spot attacking Coleman on guns and abortion.

DFLer Mark Dayton, who has run the most TV ads, largely focusing on healthcare, rose sharply in the latest poll sponsored by MPR, the Pioneer Press, and KARE 11. Alger believes the biggest reason for that is Dayton's unrivaled television presence and thinks Dayton has tapped into an issue voters care about and is offering meaningful solutions. Dayton's latest ad criticizes Skip Humphrey for not doing more as attorney general to fight HMOs. Humphrey arguably has the least incentive to run attack ads, since he's led the polls for months. His first television ad focuses on taxes, cited in polls as one of - if not the most - important issue to voters.

Ad clip: In Minnesota, it's time to help our working families. As governor, I've got a plan to cut taxes by $1 billion over four years. A permanent cut in the income tax rate. Help for families struggling to pay for child care, college, or when caring for an elderly parent.
Analyst Clay Steinmen calls it a front-runner's ad.
Steinmen: Visually, it's designed to give a positive impression of Humphrey - there's a lot of green, there's kids playing, there's older people, there's blue-collar people, there's a lot of ball being played.

(View entire ad from our Media Page)

Humphrey manages to work in a reference to the state's tobacco settlement, which he achieved, and talks about "responsible" tax cuts, which Steinman says may be an effort to position himself against Republican Norm Coleman, who's also calling for tax cuts. The Republican Party is running television ads touting Coleman's record as mayor of St. Paul - in Steinman's view, possibly the slickest and best produced ads of the campaign. Easily the most low-budget ads are produced by DFLer Doug Johnson's campaign. They show Johnson speaking to an audience in Virginia.
Ad clip: I'm the only candidate in this race from rural Minnesota. When I go to the Red River Valley, and I see the tears coming down the eyes of the farmers and those young families that have to leave, it hurts me.
Dean Alger says the Johnson ads are refreshing.
Alger: What's delightful about them to me is they hark back to the original ads, at the very beginning, the dawn of TV age, and the first ads we ever saw. They're pure political speech at an actual event. And the first ad is especially nice, because you see some real passion.

(View entire ad from our Media Page)

But analyst Clay Steinman says because the ads only appeal to rural Minnesota, Johnson seems to be campaigning for the State Legislature, not the governor's seat.

The barrage of DFL gubernatorial ads is likely to increase in the final days before next Tuesday's election, then viewers will probably get a breather. The Coleman campaign plans to start running ads around the end of the month, and the Reform Party's Jesse Ventura isn't likely to run much television advertising until closer to the November election - he's been raising money for ads from t-shirt sales.

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