THE 30 SECOND CANDIDATE Q_AND_A
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INTERVIEW WITH ALEX CASTELLANOS (part1)


Q:
You were quoted in a New York Times piece that this may be the year when being a politician is not such a bad thing after all. What are your thoughts on that?

CASTELLANOS: The dominant political group is baby boomers. And when you have the people deciding, when the people deciding an election are a bunch of baby boomers who are investing in mutual funds, these are kind of risk averse people. So, I think this is going to be a good year for experience, a good year not to rock the boat.


Q: Not a year when you necessarily want to have big, new ideas.

CASTELLANOS: The country agreed on a lot of big, new ideas in 1994. Clinton agreed on them, Republicans agreed on them. Changing welfare, cutting taxes, balancing the budget. So our big ideas are kind of in track and on place. This is a year to get a lot of that done. And not to rock the boat.

Also this year I think the economy's going into uncharted territory. We've never been where we are, where we're going. And people are a little scared. When times are a little anxious like they are now, I think people are a little more reticent to make a big change.


Q: What did you glean from California in particular? Was Al Checchi's problem Al Checchi? What did you read from that?

CASTELLANOS: Al Checchi proved the dictum that the most dangerous place is the middle of the road. He ran as a Democrat who was going to fight crime, who was going to cut bureaucracy, and do all of those things that Republicans usually do.

He was doing great until Lungren got into the race and the voters figured out there was a real Republican in the race. So he got sandwiched on the left by Davis and lost votes to the Republican on the right and, you know, the lesson there is that American politics starts at the wings and moves towards the middle. You can't build a candidacy in a primary from the mushy center. There's no support.


Q: Are there lessons to be learned in terms of his advertising campaign, 40 million or whatever it was that he spent? Or is it risky to generalize from that?

CASTELLANOS: That nothing kills a bad product. I think the lesson to be learned from California and 40 million dollars is that nothing kills a bad product quicker than good advertising. You know, sometimes the problem is not the label on the can, it's the dog food. And sometimes there's just dog food dogs don't like.


Q: Where do you take this as you plot the rest of your course for '98?

CASTELLANOS: Where do I take what we're thinking?


Q: The risk averse nature of things. That experience is a good thing. Presumably ads have to fit the times, so how does that suggest the course that you'll follow with your campaign?

CASTELLANOS: You know, the people I work for still have agendas. I work for them because they believe in things and I can vote for them. So they still, you know, the agenda they agreed on is an agenda of change. Of changing Washington, of making it smaller. Of returning more economic power to families. Making families stronger, making government less strong. So that's not to say that it's a, you know, the agenda, the things we're going to be talking about are, are just, it's all about experience. No, it's experience that gets you somewhere. And it's experience that gets you the things we agreed on in '94. And, you know, a lot of the challengers this year that the Democrats have I think are going to fail on both those counts. They're, many of them are not running like Clinton of '96 and '98. They're running like Clinton of '92 and 4. They're running on the big health care, the thing that bombed for Clinton when he tried it. And so, I think they are off on the agenda. And a lot of them then are also untested and risky.


Q: You mentioned a moment ago that you work for candidates that you can vote for. How important is that to you, to be in sync with the principles of the people you work for?

CASTELLANOS: There's no other reason in the world to do this job. As, as hard as it is. As much as it takes you away from your family, as, if it's not for something you believe in, you could always be doing something else.

You know, on the good days this is a great job. You get to, you get to, to try to be a little creative. You get to, you get to watch television for a living. But the best thing about this job is you get to fight for things you believe in. The things you think are important, things you think that will make a difference down the road.

So, I mean, why would you try to undermine things that, why would I try to undermine things that I believe in? There's no other reason to do this other than, you know, you get to go to war with your friends over big ideas and things you care about that you think are good about the country.


Q: And how does that then inform what you try to accomplish in an ad. Is it to get at the heart of what that person is and then reveal that?

CASTELLANOS: The longer, the longer I've done this stuff, the less powerful I think the technique is, the less powerful I think style is. The more powerful I think truth is. The best thing you can do, my mission in a campaign, is to find the truest thing you can say about the candidate I represent and about my opponent.

Sometimes it's that little moment that is bigger than the moment itself that tells you everything you need to know about someone. You know, the fact that, the fact that Lauch Faircloth drives home every weekend, 300 miles, by himself, leaves, goes home, spends his, he doesn't really live here. He doesn't like this place. The fact that, for example, you walk into most senators offices and they have their paintings on the wall, Lauch Faircloth's walls are bare. He doesn't care about this place.

That one thing tells you so much about him. And we look for those little things about the guys we work for and the guys that we think would be a danger to the country.


Q: So it's finding that moment and then revealing it within that thirty seconds?

CASTELLANOS: Yeah. You want to find that one little moment that's bigger than the moment itself. Something that tells you something. Just a little moment that tells you something big and true.

That's one of the things that bothers me the most about people who would try to compel their version of what is true in an ad. By saying it has to have the candidate on it or it has to be just facts or it has to be this.

Bob Dole kept, until his last day in the senate, a cigar box in his desk drawer in which the little town of Russell had raised money for him so he could have an operation to learn to walk again. That is an important thing about Bob Dole. He never forgot those people, never would. He'd never betray those folks. And, you know, that's truer than Bob Dole talking to a camera. That's truer than any fact or figure you could give about Bob Dole. That's important.

So I don't think you want to constrict politics to weed all of that. I can, you know, I can show you ads that a, that a little bit of music and some pictures of a candidate might be the truest thing about that guy that you couldn't tell any other way. You know, we're doing an ad about Bob Taft. And one of the versions of the spot I like the most now, has no comment, no words, it's just music and Bob Taft. And at the end of it, I feel like I've met him, and I know him. I know what a decent guy he is. That's important.


Q: Paul Taylor, if he were here, would argue the advantage of the sort of Stand By Your Ad approach, having the candidate on camera, saying here's what I believe in, is that you're going to get a less negative message. That you're going to get a more factual, accurate message. That you're going to get the product, the dog food, if you will, as opposed to all the other stuff.

CASTELLANOS: I think if you get a less negative message, in many cases, in this country you get a less factual message. The truest spots, most factual spots, are the negative and comparative. They inform the voters much more than a bunch of fluffy positives often do.

Secondly, are you sure we don't need more negative messages? Our government's broken. You know, we've spent a zillion dollars trying to fix these problems in America all of which are worse. And, basically Washington is very ineffective. Don't we need to compel change? Maybe we need more negative commercials, not less? And I'm not sure Paul would be as, as strict as he was a year ago about requiring a candidate to be on camera.

You know, we talked a little bit about when Elvis Presley came on, Ed Sullivan wouldn't show him from the waist down because, "Oh my God," you know, that's not good for people. We've got to protect people from that. And they want to do the same thing with Bob Dole. Hey, we're only going to show Bob Dole in a head shot from the waist up because somehow that's truer than talking about a cigar box or by talking about what he really is, the populist form the prairie.

That's, you know, a bunch of guys in stiff suits deciding what, in their benevolence, what's good for you as a voter to, what you ought to see and not see. I don't buy that. There already is somebody out there to decide what we ought to see in campaigns. There already is somebody out there to decide what's good for us. They're called Americans. And putting all these rules on campaigns that candidates can do this but can't do that, should say this, shouldn't say that, I think removes a lot of power from, from voters.

 
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