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Ad Watch: Candidates for governor increase TV ads
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
October 2, 2002


New television ads in Minnesota's gubernatorial race are filling the airwaves around the state. DFLer Roger Moe and Independence Party candidate Tim Penny started running their first TV ads this week. the Republican Party is running an ad that criticizes both Moe and Penny, and the Green Party's Ken Pentel begins running his first TV ads Thursday.

Tim Pawlenty ad. Play

The Republican Party's latest ad for its gubernatorial candidate, Tim Pawlenty, is the first one of the campaign to target Pawlenty's opponents by name. The ad depicts Tim Penny and Roger Moe as tax-raising superhero cartoon characters, dubbed Taxman and Roger.

Both the Penny and Moe campaigns object to the ad. Penny's campaign manager, Jack Uldrich, says it's silly, and the kind of negative attack voters are tired of.

"The one thing we are opposed to is taking his name or recognition, not putting it in proper context, again, putting him in a cape and things like that. That's what we're opposed to," Uldrich says.

Uldrich says the ad doesn't mention Penny's record of fiscal responsibility in Congress. Moe's campaign manager, Bill Harper, says the ad mocks the serious nature of the budget deficit facing the next governor.

"To make a joke and a cartoon about the situation we're facing here in Minnesota is extremely wrong."

Roger Moe ad. Play

Moe, Penny, and Green Party candidate Ken Pentel have said because the state's budget deficit could top $3 billion, tax increases are likely to balance the budget. Only Pawlenty has pledged not to raise taxes.

Ad analyst Ron Faber, a mass communications professor at the University of Minnesota, says the ad effectively distinguishes Pawlenty from his opponents.

"By itself, is it accurate and is it complete? No, but no ads are. Ads present an opportunity for a candidate to say, 'here, this is how I see myself as being different.' It really requires the voter to go beyond that and look into more details," according to Faber.

Faber says the ad runs the risk of looking like a negative attack, but because it uses humor, voter backlash to negative ads may be limited. Penny's first ads don't mention his opponents by name, but they do criticize Republicans and Democrats. One 15-second spot shows a herd of sheep.

Tim Pawlenty ad. Play

"Minnesota needs a governor who won't blindly follow party lines," it says.

Another ad shows two children sitting on a broken seesaw that's flat on the ground.

"Without the middle, politics doesn't work either," the ad says.

Republican Party spokesman Bill Walsh said the ads are creative, but don't tell voters anything about what Penny stands for.

"It's nothing about what he stands on issues, what he's going to do if he's governor; all it is, is 'I'm not the Republicans and I'm not the Democrats, so vote for me,'" Walsh says.

Analyst Faber says the ads do distinguish Penny from his Republican and DFL opponents. But he says the short 15-second spots may not capture voters' attention.

Tim Penny ad. Play

"Research shows that a 15-second ad gets about 75 percent of the attention of a 30-second ad. But these particular 15-second ads seem to go by very quickly, partly because they use visuals, then a sound bite, and so, unless a viewer is really watching and paying attention, they could very quickly lose these in the clutter," Faber says.

Like Penny, the Green Party's Ken Pentel is about to start running a series of 15-second ads as his first television buy. Pentel also uses humor in his "Green Party myth-busters."

DFLer Roger Moe takes a more somber approach in his first television ad. Moe tells viewers that his parents, who are both in their 80s, are his heroes, and they worry about Social Security and the cost of their prescriptions.

Tim Penny ad. Play

"We can't let politicians privatize Social Security. I'll fight to lower drug prices for our parents and grandparents. As governor, I'll always put our families first," Moe says in the advertisement.

Faber says while Moe's ad is different from the humorous ones, he says Moe runs the risk that it will get confused with the onslaught of Social Security ads in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race.

"Certainly a governor can't do much about Social Security. I believe his argument will be that there are tangential issues that may be important, but clearly it's not something that would be relevant to a governor's race," he says.

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Faber says Moe's ad is likely to appeal to older voters, who prefer a more serious ad. He says the Pawlenty ads target younger voters, much like Gov. Ventura did four years ago. Pawlenty's campaign has yet to run ads of its own, but the Republican Party ads have been criticized for using Pawlenty video purchased from Pawlenty's media consultant.

The Independence Party claims the practice violates the law for independent expenditures. The matter will be decided by the state Campaign Finance and Disclosure Board.

More from MPR
  • Ad Watch MPR's Laura McCallum and Mark Zdechlik with Professor Ronald J. Faber of the University of Minnesota review this year's election advertising. Watch for additions to the series through the fall campaigns.