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Ad Watch: Grams
by Mark Zdechlik
April 6, 2000
Part of MPR's Campaign 2000 coverage
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Republican Senator Rod Grams rolled out his first re-election television ad this week. It's the beginning of an effort to bolster the image of a politician with relatively low approval ratings for an incumbent.

GRAMS' FIRST TV AD of the 2000 election season serves as a 60-second upbeat reminder of just who Minnesota's freshman Senator is. The ad features primarily rural images - farms kids, a school bus making its way down a dirt road and a main street barbershop.

Other than a prominent mention of the $500-per-child tax credit Grams pushed for, the commercial is light on details about exactly what he's done as a U.S. senator or what he intends to do if his re-election effort is successful. Grams' campaign manager declined an invitation to talk about the ad or strategy to re-elect the senator, who according to Minnesota Public Radio's last poll in Febuary, has less than half of the state registered voters convinced he's doing a good or excellent job in Washington.

Last month, Grams told Minnesota Public Radio he wants his campaign to take the high road. "We want to be very positive on the issues and I think Minnesotan voters respect that and I think anytime you start doing these low road gutter type attacks that turns off more voters than turn on voters," he said in the interview. (Listen)

Political analyst Dean Alger studies campaign ads. Alger says Grams re-election ad is sharp departure from the relatively negative ads he ran six years ago toward the conclusion in his initial Senate election effort.

Clay Steinman, Chair of the Communications Studies Department at Macalester College and public affairs consultant Dean Alger review this year's election advertising. Watch for additions to the series through the fall campaigns. (Our 1998 and 1996 campaign advertising feature includes some historically significant ads that remain available.) See Ad Watch home page.
"This is a classic image ad," Alger says. "He has included a whole series of classic images that he wants to portray, visual images that he wants to use to portray his candidacy. We have Veterans of Foreign Wars, rural elements, a whole series of these classic ads. However I find it interesting that there's not a person of color anywhere in the ad."

Alger also says there's a lot of Rod Grams in his campaign commercials. It's an indication, in addition to having the advantage of incumbency, the former news anchor's television experience and comfort in front of a camera give him a leg up on his opponents.

"You see some ads and some candidate a rarely seen or are seen in the distance or something of the sort," says Alger. "But Grams is shown front and center or with other people in whole series of settings. Clearly this guy and his experience. Rather like Reagan, he understands how he appears on camera and they know the right lighting. So you can see his background and experience there."

Right now only Grams and DFLer Mike Ciresi are running ads. That field however is certain to widen. Nine Democrats and two Independence Party candidates are vying to win Grams' Senate seat.