No ad victory in 2000 race for Bush, Gore

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The 2000 presidential campaign is closing with the campaigns of Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush using decidedly different strategies in their official ad efforts -- if it matters.

The Gore campaign is attacking Gov. Bush while the Bush team continues to sound a more positive note. Of course, with the Republican National Committee spending $60 million hammering Gore's policies and the Democratic National Committee's somewhat lesser budget drilling home Gov. Bush's record in Texas, the fact that those ads are financed by related groups rather than the campaigns themselves may be meaningless.

"Americans don't know if an ad is paid for by George Bush or a Republican organization," said Frank Luntz, a former GOP pollster and strategist who is now a political analyst for MSNBC. "An ad is an ad is an ad."

The 2000 race, the most expensive political ad campaign in history, is ending with so many spots from the presidential candidates, political parties and third-party groups that some suggest the ads may be losing their effectiveness.


Both candidates' efforts are hitting mostly the same four issues -- Social Security; healthcare and prescription drugs; taxes; and education -- over and over. And with Gov. Bush and Vice President Gore further limiting media buying to markets reaching battleground states, some consultants believe voters in those states may be turning off ads entirely -- or at least not fully comprehending the differences the ads portray between the two candidates. That comes amid reports last week of ad buying so frenzied that some stations in target states were having to allocate ad time.

"The differences [in the ad campaigns] are not at the macro level. They are at micro level," said Chris Barnes, associate director of the Center for Survey Research & Analysis at the University of Connecticut. "People don't have the mechanism to evaluate that and they will vote on gut and who they like."

Mr. Luntz said it's not that people don't care about those issues. In fact, they are what voters care most about. The issue is that viewers don't care about political ads.

"People are paying less attention than ever before" to political ads, he said. "They have an internal ad watch when it comes to politics and mentally turn the channel when an overtly political ad comes on."


Others, however, suggest the problem isn't the voters: It's the ads. They suggest this year's advertising has taken few chances and so has hit no home runs.

Alex Gage, president of Market Strategies, a public opinion research company that has tested ads of the two campaigns and the two political parties this fall as part of a project for Americans for Tax Reform, said his research suggests the ads do work, but have limited impact. "None of these ads appeared to have the ability to redefine the race," said Mr. Gage.

"In the past, the campaigns were a little more daring," he said, citing the "Bear" spot for Ronald Reagan's 1984 campaign created by the Tuesday Team; Tony Schwartz's "Daisy" ad for Lyndon Johnson in 1964; and several others.

"I would say that the ads this year are boring. Americans have become very sophisticated about 30-second spots and in this campaign there is a lack of creativity."

Mark McKinnon, leader of Gov. Bush's Maverick Media ad team, said the presidential ad campaign may not be as creative as in previous years, but maintained that was a reflection of voters. "Voters want it straight these days. They want straight unfiltered direct information."

While political consultants say the closeness of the race could be blamed on neither side adequately providing sufficiently captivating messages, the campaigns and the parties defend their ads. They said the advertising addresses issues voters want to hear about, need to hear about or are necessary to correct misleading statements of the rival camp.

"Our first hope was to fully air the Republican agenda and Gov. Bush's plan to help Social Security and education reform, but there are more and more situations where the Democrats attacked," said Terry Holt, communications director for the Republican National Committee's Victory 2000 effort.

Mr. Holt said that while the better-known candidate, Vice President Gore, could quickly move from introducing himself to attacking, the Bush campaign had to introduce the American people to the governor. That left it to the party to respond to Vice President Gore.

The GOP's ads come from National Media, Alexandria, Va. Hispanic radio and TV were created by Gerra, DeBerry & Co., San Antonio, and African-American radio by Alfano Communications, Washington.

One of the GOP's TV spots running in a number of states this week will accuse Vice President Gore of fibbing."Why does Al Gore say one thing when the truth is another?" said the commercial.

Joe Andrew, national chair of the DNC, said his party is using much of its advertising to talk about Gov. Bush's Texas record because voters are already aware of other issues and aren't as familiar with his Texas background. Democratic strategist Carter Eskew has joined Bill Knapp of Squier Knapp Dunn, Washington, and Bob Shrum, a principal at Shrum, Devine & Donilon, Washington, in producing both the DNC and Gore campaign ads. Their group is called the Campaign Co. for the Gore campaign, and Democratic Victory 2000 for the party.

One party spot last week featured Gov. Bush claiming progress in Texas education, then quoted a study saying achievement test scores worsened under the governor.

The Gore campaign, too, was featuring several different messages last week. Some ads featured Vice President Gore citing the nation's prosperity. "I want to keep that going and build on that foundation," he says in the spot. Others executions, however, attacked Gov. Bush.

"What happens when you promise the same money to two different groups of people," said the ad, claiming Gov. Bush promised young Americans $1 trillion for Social Security benefits also pledged to seniors.


Dag Vega, a Gore campaign spokesman, said the strategy has been to talk about issues in ads. "We have taken every opportunity to compare the claims made by Gov. Bush," said Mr. Vega. "We have run a very issue-oriented strategy that draws critical distinctions."

The Bush campaign, however, has been less direct in attacking Vice President Gore in TV ads produced by its Maverick Media ad team. The ad team includes the Madison Avenue posse, headed by Jim Ferguson, president of Y&R's New York office.

"Today our children are forced to grow up too fast. Parents need tools to help them. . . . We need filters for online content in schools and libraries . . . family hours for TV programming . . . character education in our schools," said one ad.

Another Bush spot that began running late last week in states including Illinois and California -- states which the campaign had not previously bought -- show the governor saying, "I believe we need to encourage personal responsibility so people are responsible for their actions."

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