Ad wars: Political fight moving at warp speed

6:32 AM, Oct 19, 2006   |    comments
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Candidates targeted by attack ads are wasting little time striking back with response ads. It's a lesson they learned from John Kerry in 2004. If it seems a response ad follows closely on the heels of an attack ad it's not your imagination. Candidates targeted by attack ads are wasting little time before striking back with response ads. In fact if your face shows up in a political these days in Minnesota go ahead and look for yourself in the opponent's counter punch ad. "We're really in the rock-em sock-em stage of the campaign where the candidates are putting up negative ads and their opponents are responding instantaneously," remarked Larry Jacobs of the U of M's Humphrey Institute. The Pawlenty for Governor ad featuring a real accountant adding up the tab for Mike Hatch's proposals was followed up very quickly by an ad showing the same accountant. "Have you seen the TV ad with Tim Pawlenty's accountant?" says the narrator in the Hatch ad. "Turns out he's a Republican Party official." The Hatch campaign used a police officer in an ad saying "Mike Hatch is a straight shooter and he doesn't cut corners." The Minnesota Republican Party countered with a spot using that clip from the Hatch ad followed by a narrator's voice challenging the officer's words. "Really? Mike Hatch has a history of bullying behavior," says the announcer. "The tremendous velocity in the ads and the speed with which they’re responded to, it’s like watching a closed boxing match," Professor Jacobs told KARE-TV on Wednesday. "One boxer throws a punch and the other responds almost instantaneously." Jacobs says this is the legacy of John Kerry's now notorious blunder in his 2004 presidential campaign. Most experts agree Kerry errored by not responding quickly enough to the Swiftboat Veterans ad campaign questioning Kerry's Vietnam War credentials. As Jacobs put it, "The lesson coming out of 2004 and the Kerry error was respond and respond during one news cycle to criticism you take in attack ads." So, he notes, Amy Klobuchar's campaign couldn't afford to ignore the new Mark Kennedy ads telling viewers that Klobuchar wants to ration medicine to seniors and "take drugs like Prevacid and Lipitor completely away." Klobuchar held a news conference in Saint Paul Monday featuring her mother, who takes Lipitor. "You can imagine my mom’s surprise," Klobuchar told reporters, about how her mother reacted to the Kennedy ads. Jacobs said a news conference or news release responding to an ad is a first step most campaigns will take almost immediately. "Amy Klobuchar responds with a press conference she’s gotten a free media buy. Now if she wants to back that up with her own attack ad to counter what Kennedy said it’s tit for tat." In fact Klobuchar did begin running a new ad the same day as her news conference at the State Capitol, making the same point. "Rationing Lipitor for seniors, that’s ridiculous," Klobuchar says in the ad, "My mom takes Lipitor!" The difference between making the point in a news conference and doing it in an ad is that the ad is seen many times in many different time slots, as opposed to a story which may run only once on the local news. For consultants it's all about repetition and saturation of a message. "Some people in the industry will say you’ve got to repeat it 17 times before a voter will really start paying attention," says Jacobs. "And the strategy on the other side is don’t let that happen without your message getting in there, beginning to neutralize or counteract any effect that might have." At what point, though, do viewers become confused by all the back-and-forth claims and counter claims? "I think we could hit a point of voters where they’re so confused by the ads they don’t know what to make of them," conceded Jacobs. "On the other hand the ads may be providing some information." Negative advertising is a staple of campaign strategy, especially for those who are lagging in the polls, because most research suggests it actually works. It either gets voters to change their minds or, in some cases, causes them to tune out completely. Jacobs cites research showing that negative advertising can have a demoralizing effect on some voters and cause them to throw up their hands and just stay home on election day. By John Croman, KARE 11 News

(Copyright 2006 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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