Early Themes Strike a Distinctive Tone

Presidential Candidates Showcase Strengths in Early Ads

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Evan Tracey Evan Tracey
If the first sortie of ads by Congressman Hunter, Sens. Dodd and Edwards, and Govs. Romney and Richardson are any indication of things to come, then we should be in for an entertaining summer. As the wannabe front-runners have taken to the airwaves with their messages, we are seeing some early indications of the dominant themes, differences in messages and evolving tactics to come.

First the Republicans. Congressman Duncan Hunter, who will be credited by election historians as the first candidate on the air in the 2008 race for the White House, has staked out some room on the right wing with his early ads advocating strong conservative themes like fair trade with the Chinese, Mexican fences and celebrity endorsements from Gen. Chuck Yeager. We await his next round.

Gov. Mitt Romney's efforts have been much more substantial in terms of the size of his ad buying and targeting. The Romney campaign has targeted the early primary states with several rounds of self-delivered messages about his business and governmental accomplishments, plans to limit the size of the federal government, a need for future military might and stopping those pesky activist judges. The campaign has also used its financial advantage to run ads nationwide on cable.

While the early Republican ads make no mention of the rest of their party's field, the Democrats on the air are making less subtle points about why they, and not the current front-runners, should be elected next year. First, Gov. Bill Richardson has targeted the early primary states with several masterful ads highlighting his many accomplishments in both a serious and funny manner. The ads put an emphasis on why qualifications should matter, and I bet no other candidate in history has ever been as bold as Mr. Richardson in using photographs of himself with another candidate's spouse in a campaign ad.

In an attempt to drive a wedge between himself and the other Democratic front-runners, John Edwards has employed the tried-and-true "person on the street" ad technique to challenge Congress, which he is no longer a part of, to cut off funds for the Iraq war. Mr. Dodd follows a message similar to that of Mr. Edwards. MR. Dodd, however, has picked a spot overlooking the White House to deliver a call out to fellow Democrats in the race to stand up to Bush on the war.

So with a little over six months before primary votes are cast, we have learned that these ads are first-rate, strategic and they are about issues. With campaign war chests amassing, front-runners consuming the media coverage, and the primary calendar compressing so fast that the campaign strategists are suffering from motion sickness, it seems likely that the ad wars will become more intense, more aggressive and more national.

So keep up the good work!

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Evan Tracey is the founder and chief operating officer of Campaign Media Analysis Group, a TNS Media Intelligence company. See his complete bio.