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MOVING AWAY FROM CLINTON DEMS KEEP DISTANCE IN CAMPAIGN ADS

By Published on .

WASHINGTON-The professorial looking candidate stares into the camera, and in a reassuring manner boasts to constituents that he's voted against the White House considerably more often than he's voted with it.

Pretty traditional fare for a political ad except for one thing-this candidate is Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad from North Dakota.

And, to add insult to injury, his agency happened to produce ads for the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign.

But that is what's happening in political race after political race this fall as Democratic candidates, both incumbent and challenger, try to distance themselves from President Clinton and his sagging popularity. At the same time, Republicans are working overtime to link their opponents with the White House.

Take, for instance, the campaign ad used by Tennessee Republican Bill Frist, who's challenging longtime Sen. Jim Sasser, a Democrat. The Frist ad, produced by campaign manager Tom Perdue, showed the presidents on Mount Rushmore being replaced by the visages of President Clinton, Sen. Sasser, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.) and Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D., Ill.), the former Ways & Means Committee chairman who's been indicted for corruption.

And then there's Sen. Conrad. A moderate to conservative Democrat, Sen. Conrad opened his campaign with a traditional "what-I've-done-for-the-voters" spot. But after he was attacked as a Clinton tool by Republican candidate Dr. Ben Clayburgh, the senator came back with a 30-second spot in which he said: "A majority of the time I vote with Republican leader [Sen.] Bob Dole."

Adding to the Democrats' angst, the Conrad spot was produced by Greer, Margolis, Mitchell, Burns & Associates, the Washington-based political consultancy used two years ago by the Clinton campaign.

"Our point was that Conrad votes his mind, not that he's trying to liken himself to Dole," said Jim Margolis, a Greer Margolis partner. He acknowledged the overall lack of national enthusiasm for President Clinton adds to Democratic candidates' marketing woes.

But he offers no apologies for scripting a commercial for a client that doesn't exactly cozy up to another client.

"We run these by the White House before we do them-they know what's going on," Mr. Margolis said.

There's no outpouring of generic Democratic advertising likely. But the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee are expected to get into the act. RNC Chairman Haley Barbour wouldn't rule out using Ross Perot's pro-GOP comments in ads. However, a Perot spokeswoman said there were "no plans" for the Texas billionaire to appear in Republican spots.

Already the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has produced a TV spot for Democratic candidates, via Clinton media advisers Grunwald, Eskew & Donilon, Washington. The ad rips into Republican congressional candidates who recently unveiled a "contract with America" that promised lower taxes, a balanced budget and congressional term limits.

"That's given us something to attack," said David Dixon, committee political director. "We've made buys to respond in targeted markets. We made a single prototype commercial [that can be adapted by candidates to their own races]. But the bigger generic advertising will be done by the DNC."

Spokesmen said the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee won't produce ads, but rather will funnel money to selected races to pay for ads produced by individual campaigns.

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