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Ad Watch: The Fourth District Race
By Laura McCallum
September 6, 2000
Part of MPR's Ad Watch series
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

With less than a week to go until the September 12th primary, three DFL candidates in the Fourth Congressional District have started running television ads. The Fourth District candidates are competing for voters' attention in a campaign that's largely been dominated by the big-money Senate candidate ad buys.

DFLer CATHIE HARTNETT was the first Fourth District candidate to start running ads, when she began airing a series of humorous radio spotsa couple of weeks ago, including one in which she said , tongue in cheek, that she was too fat to appear on television. Her three DFL primary opponents apparently have no such
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qualms. St. Paul City Council member Chris Coleman comes closest to matching Hartnett's irreverence with two 15-second spots. In one, he wears a kilt and plays the bagpipes.
Ad: Chris Coleman doesn't skirt the issues. Vote for a candidate who isn't afraid to make some noise in Congress.
The Coleman spots are produced by Minneapolis adman Bill Hillsman, known for his quirky sense of humor and ability to cut through the clutter of traditional political ads. Analyst Dean Alger, the Minnesota director of the Alliance for Better Campaigns, says the Coleman ads may grab voters' attention, but they don't tell them anything about Coleman.

"You have a four-person field, it's harder for normal people, unlike political junkies, to remember each of them, so it's a way to introduce the candidate, but they don't give people much of a reason to vote for him in terms of what he might actually do in Congress," says Alger.

Alger says the television ads for two of Coleman's opponents - State Senator Steve Novak of New Brighton and State Representative Betty McCollum of North St. Paul - also lack specifics, but they give voters some basic value statements about the candidates' views.

McCollum, the DFL's endorsed candidate, is running two television spots. Both feature a close-up shot of McCollum speaking earnestly into the camera.
Ad: Do you think most congressmen know what it's like to go without health insurance? Or take an unpaid leave to care for a dying mother? I do. In Congress, I know what needs to be done.
Alger says what's most interesting about the McCollum ad is its style.
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"In the past, campaign consultants have advised women when they're running for office to sound authoritative, be forceful and so on, and yet this is very, very soft; the voice is soft, the presence is soft, even the angle in which she's sitting is almost like a family portrait. It makes me wonder if her campaign is seeking especially to try and appeal to women in the Fourth District."

In the ads, McCollum says prescription drugs should be affordable for everyone, but doesn't say how she'll achieve that. Alger has the same critique about Steve Novak's ad. Novak, who is on leave as a vice president for Region's Hospital Foundation, has made health care his top campaign issue, with billboards that tout Novak - a prescription for change.
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His TV ad features an endorsement by former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer.
Ad: He knows first hand that doctors should be making medical decisions, and believes Medicare should cover prescriptions for all seniors, and supports a plan to lower drug costs for everyone.

Alger says Novak should tell voters what plan he supports to lower drugs costs. But Alger says both the McCollum and Novak ads are more substantive than the quirky Coleman spots.

"This ad at least does give people some tangible reasons for voting for candidate Novak. He at least has categorical statements about his orientations about a major issue in the campaign," Alger says.

The fourth candidate in the race, small business consultant Cathie Hartnett, also focuses on health care in her latest radio ad. She says if elected, she'll pay for her own health insurance until all Americans have coverage that's as good as what members of Congress receive. Alger says the pledge seems like a campaign gimmick, and Hartnett should tell voters what type of health care reform she supports.

While the Democrats are the only Fourth District candidates running ads before the primary, expect to see more television spots before the general election. Republican State Senator Linda Runbeck has a sizable campaign war chest, and the open seat is a key battleground for both parties, as one of a handful of races that could determine who controls the next Congress.