POLITICAL AD REVIEW;TOO LITTLE, TOO EARLY FOR BILL

By Published on .

Candidate: Clinton/Gore '96

Agency: Squier Knapp Ochs, Washington

Rating (out of four): 11/2 stars

The deadly assault weapons, stupid.

Having gained the presidency by hammering away indefatigably about the economy, Bill Clinton is trying to kick-start his re-election bid with three TV spots about his toughness on crime.

"Deadly assault weapons off our streets," Clinton says, in a series of George Bush-ian sentence fragments following the usual gallery of innocent crime victims. "A hundred thousand more police on the streets. Expand the death penalty. That's how we'll protect America."

Will protect? Are protecting? Is he listing accomplishments, or plans? The answer is, a), accomplishments, but the syntax is bewildering-and so is the decision to advertise 16 months before the election.

President Clinton seems to be trying to neutralize the historical GOP ownership of the law-and-order issue, but the effort is awkward and extremely premature. At this stage of the game, voters expect the president to be the president, not the candidate supplicant. Pronouncements from the bully pulpit and photo-ops galore, yes. Thirty-second spots, no.

The White House has said ridiculously that these spots are meant not as campaign ads, per se, but rather to harden resistance to repeal of the assault weapons ban. But even for Senate Republicans, repeal talk has been a non-issue since the Oklahoma City bombing. Hard to understand though the copy may be, the unambiguous goal here is to prop up the president's image as a nemesis of street crime.

Two of the spots visit with police officers involved in assault-weapon shootings, complete with p.o.v. re-enactments. "President Clinton is right," both policemen say, "this is not about politics." Instead, they say, it's about saving lives.

Yeah, well, it's about politics and saving lives. But it comes so early that it sends an unintended message: that what is being saved is the political life of a president taking desperate measures before the campaign has even begun.

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