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Ad Watch: The Ad Police Chastise the Candidates
By Laura McCallum
October 25, 2000
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Minnesota's U.S. Senate race is the most expensive in the state's history, and much of the nearly $10 million spent by the three major candidates so far has been used on television ads. Since ads have dominated the campaign, we decided to ask some citizens what they think of the latest commercials in the Senate race.
Meet the members of the Ad Police.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

MPR'S AD ANALYST, political scientist Dean Alger, pulled together a group of Minnesotans to critique campaign ads. Dubbed the "Citizens' Ad Police," the group of six Twin Cities residents range in age from 25 to 68. Two lean Democrat, two lean Republican and two consider themselves independent. We showed them five ads from the Senate race, and the one that got the strongest reaction was an ad for Republican Senator Rod Grams, featuring his mom, Audrey.

Sitting in her kitchen in a red suit, Audrey Grams tells viewers they can trust her son, and ends with the line "Uff-dah. Vote for Rod." It's an appeal that was lost on the Ad Police, because they were so annoyed with Grams for using his mother in an ad. Amanda Mather of Minneapolis, who works in sports management and considers herself somewhat conservative, calls the Grams ad "a manipulative ploy to get the senior vote."

"You laugh at it," she says. "You're not even like,'Oh, his mom's on TV, that's great that she's doing that.' You laugh and you know exactly where he's headed with that," said Mather.

The group responded more favorably to a Grams ad that talks about his record. The ad shows Grams playing catch with a child and shaking hands in a parade. The citizens said they liked the positive tone of the ad, and it gave them a sense of what Grams stands for.

Listen to the audio of this Dayton ad.
"It touched the heartstring," said Geraldine Sell of Minneapolis, a retired math teacher who leans Democrat. "I'm going have more money for my children. And if he actually manages to do what he says he's going to do, I'll have even more money for my children."

The group was less impressed with a Grams ad attacking DFLer Mark Dayton's proposal to require small businesses to provide health insurance for all their workers. The ad equates Dayton's plan with a Canadian-style single-payer system, which one citizen said is inaccurate.

Peter Pascale of St. Paul, a software engineer who considers himself an independent, says the ad reveals nothing about the kind of health care plan Grams supports.

"There were 30 seconds there where we could've heard about Grams' opinion on health care, even if it wasn't revolutionary, even if he didn't want to change things a lot," said Pascale. "I'd rather hear a rundown of that; it'd be dry as heck, and I'd much more appreciate it."

The group then watched a Dayton ad that accuses Grams of distorting his health-care proposal.

That's where the ad lost the citizens. The group thought it was fair for Dayton to clarify his health care plan, but was confused by the charge that Grams is beholden to special interests.

Listen to the audio of this Grams ad. Hear the comments of the "Ad Police" about this ad. (Listen)
Mary Hauser of Birchwood, a former Washington County commissioner who leans Republican, says it muddies up the ad.

"I just think that he screwed it up with all the other extraneous... and while I'm there, I'm going give him one, two and the side of the head," aid Hauser.

The citizens did like a 60-second Dayton ad that cites some of Dayton's positions. But one omission in both Dayton's and Grams' ads struck several citizens. Carol Meadows of Vadnais Heights, an operations manager who leans Democrat, notes that neither candidate includes any people of color in his ads.

"And if he's out there to try to get my vote, he was not talking to me," said Meadows.

The group also wondered why the ads seem designed to appeal strictly to rural Minnesota, with shots of farms and small-town parades, and no urban images. The citizens say in general, the ads lack substance, and don't tell them enough about what the Senate candidates would do if elected. They said if they were basing their vote only on television ads, they wouldn't feel like they could make an informed decision.