|THE 2000 AD WATCH: REPUBLICANS|
December 15, 1999
The airwaves are filling with presidential primary ads in key states. So far, most are positive. Following a background report, media correspondent Terence Smith talks with communications professionals about the candidates' advertising.
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TERENCE SMITH: For more scrutiny of these Republican ads we turn to John Carroll, a long-time media and advertising critic who is now managing editor at WGBH-TV's "Greater Boston," a news and public affairs program; to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania; and to NewsHour regular David Gergen, editor-at-large at "U.S. News & World Report," and a former adviser to both Republican and Democratic presidents. Welcome to you all.
John Carroll, I'm sure you're getting a full share of these ads up in the Boston area. What are your first impressions of them?
|Warm and fuzzy ads|
JOHN CARROLL: Well, my first impression is a much more energetic ad campaign than on the Democratic side, and the interesting thing is, is the three different paths that the candidates have chosen. George Bush is very much character- and personality-driven. John McCain is really driven by his personal narrative and the history that he has. And Steve Forbes -- swinging against the tide once again -- is running an issues campaign in what's essentially an era of personality, and so I think he's got the hardest task, because he's got two things to do: One, convince people that he's a credible candidate for president, and two, convince people that the issues count more than charisma and personality. And I think that's a hard sell right now.
TERENCE SMITH: Kathleen Hall Jamieson, I know you've been watching these before you headed off to Hawaii. What do you think of them?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I think it's important to note that George W. Bush is running on confidence as a primary theme. He's talking very specifically about his record and arguing from some very basic issue positions -- cut taxes, cut spending, return local control to schools, cut juvenile crime. That's a very appealing and very Republican message. By contrast, McCain is arguing character and courage. There is a deeper rooting in a specific biography from McCain in a specific record in a state for George W. Bush.
TERENCE SMITH: David Gergen, you've watched a lot of these ads over the years. How do these strike you?
DAVID GERGEN: Well, John Carroll noted that these ads were more energetic than on the Democratic side, but there are two parallels, I think, to the Democratic ads we saw last week. One is that once again these ads are very warm; they're very fuzzy; they're very positive -- quite a contrast say with the Steve Forbes campaign against Bob Dole back in New Hampshire, as you noted earlier, four years ago. The other parallel is how much they are separating themselves out from current Washington. You know, the Democrats don't talk about their connection with Bill Clinton. The Republicans are not talking about their connection to the Republican Congress. I found it quite interesting -- when George Bush's ad ends with a fresh start for America, the clear implication is there will be a fresh start in the Oval Office, but there is also I think an underlying message of a fresh start to Washington, including the relationship to Congress and mood in Washington.
|The Bush brand name|
TERENCE SMITH: That theme does run through them. John Carroll, I wonder, as you looked at the Bush ads and as we note that he's not going the standard route of introducing himself with a biographical ad, what do you think of that strategy and what does it say to you?
CARROLL: Well, I think it's a good stretch -- there's a certain amount
of confidence on Bush's part that he is known by the family he keeps,
for one thing. The ad people talk about the Bush brand in that world
-- the marketing world -- George W. Bush would be a brand extension
sort of like Tylenol PM, and he's relying on that, I think, to overcome
what's really a pretty short political career. He hasn't been around
that long as a politician.
TERENCE SMITH: Kathleen Hall Jamieson, does that make sense to you as a strategy for Bush? Is it enough? Is he that well known? Is the name good enough?
HALL JAMIESON: The name -- and this instantly telegraphs his father,
which to those who are likely to vote in primaries is a very important
piece of telegraphy -- but more importantly than that, the claims that
are in that ad about his record are suggesting that in the short period
of time that he's been governor he's accomplished a great deal, and
what he tells you regularly on the stump and in the debates is Texas
is a very large state; indeed, it would be the size of most of the nations
-- bigger than most of the nations of the world, if it were compared
|Up to the level of the office|
TERENCE SMITH: David Gergen, in the Forbes ads we see a presidential image being projected; we see Forbes with Margaret Thatcher, with Gorbachev, and, of course, with Ronald Reagan. Is that something he has to accomplish to make himself look presidential?
GERGEN: I think those shots actually helped him a great deal. I was
most struck by those elements of his ads, and I think they do give him
more stature, and they put him up on a level -- people like to think
that the person they're going to select is within a circle of acceptable
candidates, someone who is "of presidential timber," and I
think that ad helps Steve Forbes with that a great deal.
TERENCE SMITH: John Carroll, when you look at the Forbes strategy, what strikes you about it?
JOHN CARROLL: Well, I think Forbes is in a difficult position. He comes into this election, I think, carrying more baggage than a sky cap because of his performance in '96, and also I think he needs to prove that he's not a one-trip pony with the flat tax, and so what he's doing -- and, by the way, referring back to his bio ad, Margaret Thatcher, apparently, isn't all that happy that she turned up in there, and she's not pleased about the implied endorsement there, although he never says that it's a specific endorsement.
But I think that's right, what David said, that he's got to show that he's up to the level of the office. And he uses some interesting techniques, the black and white, which gives him a little more authority, and the sort of cinema verite technique that he uses takes him out of what people thought he was for a long time, which was a very programmed, one-note candidate, and tries to broaden that out for him and help people perceive him as a potential president, and I think that that's an uphill battle for him.
TERENCE SMITH: OK. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, when you turn to John McCain and his ads and his strategy, this notion of almost an anti-politician, certainly an anti-Washington politician, does that strike you as sensible use of these adds?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The claim in the John McCain biography ad is interesting because it does something that voters ordinarily have to do for themselves; it ties a piece of biography into a legislative recommendation. It suggests that the kind of courage he exhibited while a prisoner of war. And notice that that ad talks about the others there being a hero, not McCain; you draw that inference. That adds to the power of the message.
But the courage that he exhibited there is also the kind of courage he exhibits on the issue of campaign finance reform, and those who've paid a lot of attention to news would also add in putting forward the McCain bill, which would have put substantial constraints on the tobacco industry, and so by tying a very powerful piece of biography to those legislative proposals, those legislative proposals validate the fact that the biography carries a different kind of leader into the office, and, hence, the anti-Washington claim becomes credible.
There's one other thing that's very important in looking at that advertising. The public taken as a whole is not yet familiar with the McCain story. The poll that was just brought out of the field over the past month shows that over half of the electorate as a whole doesn't yet know the McCain story as prisoner of war, so putting that in place becomes very important and then letting people fill out that narrative provides a way for understanding John McCain, that one doesn't really have about the other candidates.
TERENCE SMITH: David Gergen, there are less than six weeks now to go to the Iowa caucuses. What would you advise candidates to do with the ads in this remaining time?
DAVID GERGEN: If I were John McCain, I'd try to put that ad everywhere I could. I think it's the most compelling ad of all the ones we have seen, in part, because the personal story is compelling. You know, Joseph Campbell some years ago taught us about the hero's journey. In every culture we think of someone going out into the wilderness, slaying the dragon, and coming back the hero. That fits the McCain story very well. I think Kathleen is absolutely dead on about using the personal story to then reinforce his professional reputation and what he represents.
In Governor Bush's case I would think that he might want to build a new biographical story which also helps us understand how his judgment and his common sense -- because he's been hit so often on this question recently about -- you know, does he have the depth and the weight -- I think he'll redress that very indirectly in some of his advertising in the future.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Thank you all three very much. We've taken an initial look at the Democrats, now the Republicans. We'll keep it up as the campaign goes on.
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