In the Spotlight

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Ad Watch
By Laura McCallum
November 2, 1998
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Minnesota's gubernatorial candidates have just one more day to get their message to voters and they're using a flurry of last-minute campaign advertising. Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura finally rolled out his first television ads last week, while Republican Norm Coleman and DFLer Skip Humphrey have used their ads to take shots at each other.

JESSE VENTURA'S TELEVISION ADS ARE A LOT LIKE his campaign - designed to get a reaction and show he's not a career politician. In one spot, two boys play with a Jesse Ventura "action figure".

Ad clip: You can make Jesse battle special interest groups! - Child: I don't want your stupid money! - and party politics - Child: We politicians have powers the average man can't comprehend! - You can also make Jesse lower taxes, improve public education, and fight for the things Minnesotans really care about!

(View entire ad from our Media Page)

Clay Steinman, chair of the communications studies department at Macalester College, says it's an effective ad because it presents Ventura's message in simple terms.
Steinman: And it sets up Jesse Ventura as this heroic action figure. So in that sense, I think it's a brilliant ad. It doesn't tell people how you can both cut taxes and improve schools at the same time - it's not a cerebral ad, it's not aimed at that!
Steinman says in the final days of the campaign, candidates need to focus their message, so that when citizens go into the voting booth, they'll have a clear image of the person they're voting for - in Ventura's case, as a political outsider who can shake up the system.

Three people who've been participating in the Minnesota Citizen's Forum Governor's Election Project watched this and five other campaign ads, and the Ventura spot was the only one that made them laugh. The citizens thought it was a fun ad, but it lacks specifics. 41-year-old Sandra Colson of Minneapolis - who tends to vote Democrat - says Ventura is good at portraying himself as an average guy.

Colson: You can't take him too seriously on everything. He does make you think, but this commercial - it's just a fun commercial. I don't take it as an attack on anybody, it's just fun. And I want one of those action figures!
Still, Colson said the ad doesn't make her any more likely to vote for Ventura, despite her frustration with the other two parties. Colson and the other citizens say they're tired of Republicans and Democrats attacking each other, and they're sick of politicians making promises they can't deliver. 68-year-old Neal Anderson of Maplewood, who leans Republican, says the candidates keep throwing around figures like "billion-dollar tax cuts" and "million-dollar debts," and he doesn't believe any of it. In this ad, DFLer Skip Humphrey chides Republican Norm Coleman for calling Humphrey a big spender.
Ad clip: Skip Humphrey has saved taxpayers $100 million a year. As Governor, he'll cut taxes $1 billion. Norm Coleman - he raised St. Paul debt to a record $500 million. He's against a tuition tax cut, for allowing loaded concealed weapons anywhere...
The ad shows an unflattering black and white picture of Coleman that all three citizens thought was distorted and unfair. Analyst Clay Steinman calls this the Minnesota Nice ad, because Humphrey is trying to portray himself as the candidate who shares Minnesota's values.
Steinman: He's trying to establish himself as the nice guy, the feeling guy, as opposed to the harsh, strong, black and white, Halloween music Coleman.
Coleman uses the same tactic in his ads.
Ad clip: Humphrey tripled his own office budget, and now Skip's promised $6 billion in new spending. Jesse Ventura has no plan to cut taxes. Only one candidate will deliver on permanent tax cuts. Only one - Norm Coleman.
50-year-old Sharon Bramscher of North St. Paul says the ad is trying to appeal to women - and she doesn't like being manipulated by images.
Bramscher: We're looking at this ad and seeing very hard-lined Jesse and very hard-lined Skip and all softly airbrushed, you know - Normie! Well, Normie just lost me the minute I saw that the very first time!
Bramscher tends to vote DFL, but says she's not a staunch Democrat and would have considered voting for Coleman if it weren't for that ad. Yet analyst Clay Steinman calls it a brilliant ad, because Coleman continues to deliver a consistent message: that he's the tax cutter, an issue that resonates with voters.

The final ad the citizens watched wasn't sponsored by a candidate, but by the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses, which is asking gubernatorial and legislative candidates to pledge to cut taxes by $1 billion over two years.

Ad clip: The time has come for Minnesotans to ask the billion dollar question: who's pledging and who's hedging? Who's hedging on tax cuts and who's taking the billion dollar Minnesota tax cut pledge?
Republican Neal Anderson says the ad just confuses him - he doesn't know what it's trying to accomplish.
Anderson: I half-way think that it's a spoof! That's all I can say.
But Democrat Sandra Colson says the ad is clearly an endorsement of Coleman, who talks about taking the tax cut pledge in debates.
Colson: It's the one that makes me the angriest because that's exactly the kind of commercial I am sick and tired of seeing in political campaigns. And it may not have come directly from a candidate but it is [sighs] it is obviously in support of a candidate, and I resent it.
Public affairs consultant Dean Alger says that's exactly the reaction he likes to hear. He's involved in the Minnesota Compact - a non-partisan election reform effort that aims to hold candidates accountable for advertising done on their behalf. He says the group's advertising code also asks candidates not to distort the images of their opponents - which the Humphrey campaign ads have done - and not to take a candidate's record out of context - which the Coleman ads do by citing Humphrey votes from 25 years ago. Alger notes that none of the gubernatorial candidates agreed to comply with the Minnesota Compact code.

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