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Campaign Ads Focus on Iraq, Immigration, Ethics

October 17, 2006 at 6:25 PM EDT

MARGARET WARNER: The place where most voters will learn
about and decide between the candidates in these midterm elections is, as
always, television. And while there are some televised debates, there’s a
virtual tsunami of television ads, an estimated $1.5 billion worth so far.

To explore the issues that are dominating the campaign ad
wars, we’re joined by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public
Policy Center at the University
of Pennsylvania.

And, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, welcome back.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON, Annenberg Public Policy Center: Thank

MARGARET WARNER: I’m not sure I can hear you.


MARGARET WARNER: Yes, I can now.


MARGARET WARNER: You study the campaign ad war landscape. How
does it look to you this year? How does it compare to other midterm elections?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, the more interesting
comparison is to 2004, because in 2004 Senator Kerry made a great effort to
separate Iraq
from the war on terror. He said Saddam, after all, wasn’t the one who attacked
us. President Bush worked really hard to keep those two together.

Well, this year, what you see is the Democrats are focusing
on Iraq and the Republicans,
when they focus on war, focus on war on terror and don’t make much mention of Iraq. Net
advantage on any discussion of Iraq
to Democrats.

We also, this year, I think, are going to see an
unprecedented level of attacks, even for a midyear election. The reason, I
think, the Republicans are attacking very, very strongly, I think because they
think they can demobilize those who want to vote against the status quo,
against the Republican incumbents, encourage them to stay home. And once
attacked, the other side counterattacks. That pushes the volume of attack way
up in elections.

The other thing that makes this year different for the
Democrats is Democrats usually have a lot of trouble finding a message. And
this year, Democrats are highly coherent in their ads across the races, across
the country.

Focus on Iraq and party loyalty

MARGARET WARNER: All right, well, let's begin looking atsome of those. And the dominant issue, of course, in this campaign is the Iraqwar and the president's handling of it. Let's look at that with two ads fromthe New Mexico1st Congressional District race, where the Democratic attorney general,Patricia Madrid, is challenging five-term Republican Congresswoman HeatherWilson.

We'll begin with the Democrat, Madrid's, ad.

CAMPAIGN AD ANNOUNCER: The war in Iraq. Three and a half years. Stillno plan, and America'sless safe. Heather Wilson is on the Intelligence Committee, but she neverquestioned George Bush on the war, and she never said a word about how we'vespent $300 billion there.

Heather Wilson even missed a vote on setting a timetable forwithdrawal so she could attend a fundraiser with George Bush. That's notindependence, not by a long shot.

PATRICIA MADRID (D), Arizona Congressional Candidate: I'mPatricia Madrid, and I approved this message.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona:We live in dangerous times. We're fighting a war on terror, and it's unlike anybefore it. An Air Force Academy grad and fellow veteran, Heather Wilson has theexperience these times require and the integrity our country needs.

Heather Wilson is an independent, principled leader who willstand up to anyone when it's right for New Mexicoand America.I'm proud to have Heather Wilson as an ally in Washington, and I ask you to send her back.

REP. HEATHER WILSON (R), New Mexico: I'm Heather Wilson, and Iapprove this message.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Kathleen, how typical of that is thekind of exchange we're seeing over the war and the president?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It's extremely typical on theDemocratic side. What you're seeing is the Democrat framing the issue as Iraq; theRepublican framing it as war on terror. The Democrat framing it as Republicanin lock-step, as some of their ads say across the country, or rubber-stamp, asother ads say across the country. Here as not holding the Republicansaccountable, that's also a common issue, common argument across the country.

In fact, there are many ads airing across the country thattally up the percent of agreement in votes by the Republican to President Bush.So there's a template underlying this Democratic ad.

The Republican rebuttal is ingenious. If you're beingcharged with not being independent of your party, the person you'd like tocertify your independence is the independent Republican maverick Senator JohnMcCain. And if you want somebody to argue that you're principled andindependent, he's a pretty good choice. He's also a good choice to certify yourmilitary credentials.

Now, notice what the two ads don't do. The ads don't engageeach other on any of the issues directly. There isn't a real rebuttal in thesecond ad. So voters who want to look for a rebuttal to find out what thecandidate's actual stands are, for example, on terror or Iraq aren'tgoing to find them in the ads.

Taking advantage of scandal

MARGARET WARNER: Well, that's right. You're not hearing theRepublican ads saying, "Well, I really stand with the current course in Iraq."

All right, let's look at another big issue which is thecorruption and ethics scandals that have rocked Congress. We have two ads herenow from Indiana's9th House District race between the Democrat, Baron Hill, a former congressman,and freshman Republican incumbent Congressman Mike Sodrel. And let's beginagain with the Democrat, Mr. Hill's, ad.

CAMPAIGN AD ANNOUNCER: Washington is a mess, and Mike Sodrel ispart of it. Convicted Congressman Cunningham gave Sodrel $2,000 for hiscampaign. Indicted Majority Leader Tom DeLay gave Sodrel $20,000, and $77,000from the House leadership, who knew about but did nothing to stop sexualpredator Congressman Foley.

Millionaire Mike, he says nothing and refuses to return themoney. You want change in Washington?Then change the people you send.

BARON HILL (D), Congressional Candidate: I'm Baron Hill, andI approve this message.

REP. MIKE SODREL (R), Indiana: Only a Washington politician would exploit tragedyfor political gain. Baron Hill's attack ads blaming me for the Mark Foley messare the biggest lie yet. Baron doesn't want to talk about his work at alobbying firm or his votes in Congress, like when Baron voted to allow flagburning, for abortion, and against traditional marriage. Baron, those aren'tHoosier values.

I'm Mike Sodrel, and I approve this message so you'll knowthe truth. Check the facts for yourself.

MARGARET WARNER: OK, again, how representative is thatexchange?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The Democrats are trying to tie theRepublicans across the country to corruption or character in Washington. This is an ad that engages inguilt by financial association.

The Republican, it is alleged, has accepted money from anindicted and a convicted Republican member of Congress and has accepted moneyfrom the leadership, hence by implication tied in some way to the Foleyscandal. But that's a common move. It's a "mess in Washington" move.

And the Republican counterattacks by implicitly saying,"You think there's a mess in Washington?You vote for that Democrat, and you're going to get hot-button issues, flagburning. You're going to get more abortion. You're going to get attack ontraditional marriage. Is that really what you want?"

That Republican move is a way of saying to the base,"Look, you may not like some of what's happening in Washington, but you're going to like it alot less if you get that Democrat in office."

Now, again, you have ads that haven't really engaged eachother on any substantive issues. And the problem with that is, if voters aretrying to say, "Well, how do they differ, for example, on any of theissues that are mentioned?" Well, you just don't know.

MARGARET WARNER: One thing we've noticed in some of theseads, too, is that the word "lobbyist," as the Washington Post I thinksaid yesterday, has become a dirty word. There's something like 300 ads tyingeither challengers or incumbents to lobbyists. Is that unusual?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: No, it's not at all. "Lobbyist"has been a dirty word for a long time, but it's a dirtier word in a world inwhich you've got the Abramoff scandal. And so you've got essentially words thattrigger very visceral and emotional responses on that side of the ad.

"You shouldn't like him. He took money from those badpeople. You shouldn't like him. He's a lobbyist." Now, the question is,why should you vote for either one of these folks? And if you ask thatquestion, the danger is that you say, "Why should I vote?" If you saythat, the party that mobilizes better wins the election. And the Republicansare betting they've got the better mobilization machine.

Confusion on immigration

MARGARET WARNER: All right. So now for our third -- andthere are many domestic issues that are being looked at in ads, but let's lookat one hot-button one, which is illegal immigration. These ads come from theSenate race in Pennsylvania,where two-term Republican Rick Santorum is facing a strong challenge from StateTreasurer Bob Casey, a Democrat.

This time, we begin with the Republican, Senator Santorum's,ad.

CAMPAIGN AD ANNOUNCER: Listen carefully to what Bob Caseysaid about the Senate immigration bill.

BOB CASEY, JR. (D), Pennsylvania Senate Candidate: "IfI were in the United States Senate, I would vote yes."

CAMPAIGN AD ANNOUNCER: This bill gives amnesty to 11 millionillegal aliens.

BOB CASEY: I would vote yes.

CAMPAIGN AD ANNOUNCER: Social Security benefits, even forthe time they were here illegally?

BOB CASEY: I would vote yes.

CAMPAIGN AD ANNOUNCER: And let's illegals go two yearswithout paying any federal taxes?

BOB CASEY: I would vote yes.

CAMPAIGN AD ANNOUNCER: What an insult to every law-abiding,tax-paying American.

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), Pennsylvania: I'm Rick Santorum, and Iapprove this message.

CAMPAIGN AD ANNOUNCER: Listen to Rick Santorum on illegalimmigration.

SEN. RICK SANTORUM: Illegal immigration and doing somethingabout border security is important.

CAMPAIGN AD ANNOUNCER: Really? Then why did he vote seventimes against more Border Patrol agents?

SEN. RICK SANTORUM: Illegal immigration and doing somethingabout border security is important -- and border security is important.

CAMPAIGN AD ANNOUNCER: And why did Rick Santorum voteagainst tougher penalties for employers who hire illegal workers?

Bob Casey opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants, and he'llstand up for American workers.

BOB CASEY: I'm Bob Casey, and I approve this message.

MARGARET WARNER: This time we have both sides beating up onillegal immigrants. No one's standing up for, say, a path to citizenship, asPresident Bush was talking. Is that typical?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It's not as typical of some of theother strategies, but it's emerging this week as a strong ad theme. Noticethat, in one ad, you hear the word "illegal aliens." And in the otheryou hear "illegal immigrants." That actually tells you a lot aboutwhere these two candidates stand on the Senate bill that passed without supportby Senator Santorum and on which Treasurer Casey couldn't vote. He wasn't inthe Senate, but which he says, as quoted in the ad, that he would have supported.

You also can hear in this ad the implication that amnestymust be a really bad word, because both sides oppose amnesty. Now, if you'retrying to figure out where they each stand, since an attack has been answeredwith a counterattack, first, you don't know what they mean by amnesty. And,secondly, you actually don't know what their position is on this issue.

You do know, however, that the ad is playing, at thesubtextual level, on some very basic themes about party. The Republican ad issuggesting that Democrats just don't do justice to taxpayers. They let somepeople get away with not paying taxes. The implication is that you're going tohave to pay the taxes for them. And they're not very good at penalizing people;you know, they've always been weak on law and order.

But the Democratic subtext against the Republican suggeststhat the Republican isn't going to be hard on employers who do illegal things. Thereyou've got basic Democratic and Republican themes sitting under these ads. That'san attempt to say to the party loyalists on each side, "Hey, you know I'mwith you on these issues, even if you're confused by these two ads."

MARGARET WARNER: And three weeks more to come. Kathleen HallJamieson, thanks so much.