In the Spotlight

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Ad Watch
by Laura McCallum
February 28, 2000
Part of Campaign 2000's Ad Watch Series
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The first television ads for the U.S. Senate race and presidential campaign have begun airing in Minnesota. DFL Senate candidate Michael Ciresi is running statewide spots until the March DFL caucuses, and Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Bradley bought airtime in Minnesota earlier this month.

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MICHAEL CIRESI Michael Ciresi has raised more money than his DFL opponents - $319,000 at last report - and was the first to start running radio ads on the Iron Range last year. Ciresi won't reveal the cost of his television campaign, but plans to blanket the state with 60- and 30-second spots for several weeks. The ads show the Minneapolis trial lawyer zipping across a frozen landscape on a snowmobile, talking to citizens in cafes and ice-fishing houses.
Ciresi: I've never run for public office before.
Man: You never have?
Ciresi: Never. And I'm doing it because I think you have to get involved.
Narrator: Taking on the tough questions - education.
Woman: Kids have to have computer technology.
Narrator: Social Security.
Ciresi: That belongs to the people that paid it in. It's a trust, isn't it?
In the ad, Ciresi encourages ice fishermen to get involved in the Senate race, and urges Minnesotans to attend their DFL caucuses the weekend of March 11.

Ciresi's campaign admitted Ciresi himself hasn't attended a caucus since the '80s. Clay Steinman, chair of communication studies at Macalester College, says the ad is designed to establish Ciresi as an accessible, average guy, and makes no mention of the fact that he led Minnesota's lawsuit against big tobacco.
Steinman: Perhaps the image of him that some people have is of a slick, smart, three-piece-suited lawyer. You'd never know that from this ad. He dresses casually, he drives a snowmobile, and he talks about people as guys.
The ad was developed by Bill Hillsman, who produced successful ad campaigns for Governor Jesse Ventura in 1998 and Senator Paul Wellstone in 1990. Public affairs consultant Dean Alger, the Minnesota director of the Alliance for Better Campaigns, says the Ciresi spot is reminiscent of Hillsman's Wellstone ad called "fast-paced Paul", which showed Wellstone furiously campaigning around Minnesota. But Alger says unlike fast-paced Paul, Ciresi's spot has no biographical information on the candidate.
Alger: No background, no pictures of the family, so he really isn't doing much to introduce himself. He's trying to create this initial image in people's heads, which we know from research can have a real impact, that he's actually a regular guy. He's out there really hustling to listen to what the Minnesotans are trying to say, and take his campaign out there and to get the people involved.
Alger showed the Ciresi ad to students in his media and politics class at St. Olaf College to gauge their responses - sort of an unscientific focus group.
Alger: And the first reaction was, "Well, that's pretty lame. This guy's running around in a snowmobile and what's this got to do with the Senate contest?" and so on. That was just a few students, so I don't want to over-generalize. Several of them said, "You know, it seems like this guy's talking down to average folks, he's going out there and meeting these real average folks in these houses way out on the tundra, some of them thought it looked like he was talking down to them and almost making fun of them.
The ad mentions three issues certain to be prominent in the Senate race: education, health care and Social Security; but Ciresi doesn't spell out his positions on them.

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Ciresi's early advertising start is unlikely to be matched by any other candidates; none of his DFL opponents has raised as much money, and although Republican Senator Rod Grams does have a healthy campaign war chest, his staff members say he doesn't plan to start running ads for another month or two. A conservative tax group did run pro-Grams TV spots last year.

Bill Bradley is the first presidential candidate to start running television ads in Minnesota, with two spots that aired earlier this month. The first was an endorsement by basketball legend Michael Jordan, the second labels Bradley as the only candidate who's been consistently pro-choice.
Bradley:This is the kind of issue you can't straddle. You can't be on both sides. You have to decide which side you're on. Are you anti-choice or are you pro-choice? And I decided a long time ago that I'm pro-choice.
Bradley doesn't mention Democratic rival Al Gore, but has charged Gore with voting against abortion rights as a congressman. But analyst Clay Steinman says Bradley may be splitting hairs by trying to distinguish himself from Gore on abortion, since Gore has been endorsed by the National Abortion Rights Action League.
Steinman: So to make a distinction that's not a difference is a strategy, but I don't know how helpful it is to voters or people who go to caucuses to make up their minds.
Steinman also questions why the Bradley campaign chose to run the ad in Minnesota, which is not considered a key state in the presidential race. Given that, it's unlikely Minnesotans will see many ads for presidential candidates in the next few months.