Two years after President George W. Bush's re-election campaign, two of that campaign's advertising and political strategists -- Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist, and Fred Davis, head of Strategic Perception, Hollywood, and a member of the Maverick Media ad team -- are now moving to separate Mr. Schwarzenegger from his opponent, California State Treasurer Phil Angelides.
Battle started early
They started the battle early in the political season, breaking ads shortly after Mr. Angelides emerged from a bruising June 6 Democratic primary. They sought to quickly define Mr. Angelides by suggesting Mr. Schwarzenegger would move the state forward and Mr. Angelides would move the state backward.
While the voice-overs in the ads are what one would expect from a political campaign, the visual is unexpected. Whenever Mr. Angelides is pictured or talked about -- which is often -- the motion on the picture runs backward.
But Mr. Angelides' campaign answered in kind with an ad from Morris & Carrick. That spot features footage of Mr. Schwarzenegger riding a motorcycle -- backward.
Mr. Davis said the idea for the Republican effort was to visually reinforce the central theme of Mr. Schwarzenegger's campaign: that the governor had turned around the state. He said he also tries to produce political ads that people will want to watch.
"My philosophy is political advertising should be entertaining and just as enjoyable as a Budweiser ad," said Mr. Davis, who is also doing several other races this year and ads for the cable industry on net neutrality.
Also attacked Kerry
Mr. Dowd, who had a major hand in the attempt two years ago to characterize John Kerry as a flip-flopper, said he's not trying to repeat the Bush campaign, but instead was taking advantage of a natural break after the Democratic primary.
"Campaigns are about brands. The question is how and when to do that branding," he said. "It's not like we are going to copy the Kerry thing. Every campaign you have to pick the right strategy. [Here,] it was a great time to saturate the communications, to heavy up."
Democrats and political analysts say the early advertising was also intended to turn around poll numbers for Mr. Schwarzenegger, and the Democrats claim any bump the ads delivered will be short lived. Mr. Angelides and the California Democratic Party have run several ads but held off most of their ad spending up to now -- so far, the Schwarzenegger camp has spent $15 million on ads, while the Angelides layout has been only $1.4 million.
"It's goofy," said Bill Carrick, of Morris & Carrick, citing campaign focus groups. "The creative -- the backwards. It's not that compelling a visual." He pointed out that Mr. Schwarzenegger's ads rarely feature the governor. "He's almost in absentia in his own ads," Mr. Carrick said. Future ads for Mr. Angelides, he added, may not include the backward visuals.
Indicative of other states
Independent analysts say the early advertising is indicative of what is taking place in several states this year.
"It's a strategic move that often happens when a candidate comes out of a tough primary. It creates a window of opportunity to define their opponent before their opponent can define themselves," said Jennifer Duffy, editor of newsletter "The Cook Political Report." "In a state like California, it is not a bad play."