Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar's anti-crime spot backfired into charges of racial divisiveness and recollections of the infa mous Willie Horton ad. WAR CHEST FULL FOR ' 94 ELECTION RECORD $1B IN SPENDING EXPECTED FOR OFF-YEAR

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Clinton, crime and a billion dollars.

Those are not key words for a debate on Whitewater but rather two principal ad themes expected in the 1994 political season and the amount of money likely to be spent on media by an unprecedented number of major federal and state candidates.

Regardless of results, 1994 is expected to be a record off-year for elections, what with the high number of seats contested (440 in the House, 33 in the Senate and 35 gubernatorial), vacancies created by retirements and scandals (eight in the Senate, 46 in the House), and what many perceive as an increasingly disgruntled elec-torate that will switch allegiance as fast as a 30-second attack ad.

There's money-enough to make 1994 a new benchmark for media spending in a non-presidential year, political analysts say.

"I think more than $3 billion will be spent on political campaigning in 1993-94, even without a presidential race," said Herbert Alexander, Citizens' Research Foundation director and University of Southern California political scientist. "This is going to be a very expensive year. There are 35 states with gubernatorial races, and some evidence that there are more wealthy candidates putting more money into their own races."

Political media spending-including direct mail, bumper stickers, fund-raising, outdoor boards and TV-will consume more than $1 billion, or more than 40% of the total, Mr. Alexander said.. But the longtime political spending analyst dismissed the argument that such spending is spiraling out of control.

"For all that will be spent," he said, "Philip Morris and Procter & Gamble each will spend even more on advertising than will the political parties."

He noted a handful of races will fuel the march to record spending.

"It's just going to be an arms race in California," Mr. Alexander said, where millionaire Republican Rep. Michael Huffington is girding for battle against millionaire incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein. "Huffington spent $7 million getting the Republican nomination for the Senate. There's talk he'll spend $15 million to $20 million of his own in the general election and that Feinstein may spend $15 million or more."

Some have called it a race between the richest member of the House against the richest member of the Senate.

California will also feature a media-heavy gubernatorial fray between Democrat Kathleen Brown, trying to follow in the footsteps of father Pat and brother Jerry, and incumbent Gov. Pete Wilson.

"California and Virginia pretty much guarantee this should be a record year," said Larry Sabato, government professor at the University of Virginia. "The Virginia race for the Senate alone will be $15 million to $20 million." That's because the general election will feature four major candidates, including two with big-time war chests, big-time reputations and big-time problems. Incumbent Democrat Sen.

Chuck Robb is expected to rely on ads that take the high road, Mr. Sabato said, not out of any moralistic bent but to steer attention away from his own well-documented history of a nude massage with a beauty contest winner in a hotel room, or his attendance at cocaine parties.

But his Republican opponent will be Ollie North, who has parlayed a convictionfor lying to Congress, albeit later overturned on a technicality, into a full-time career. His appeal to bedrock Republicans and the fund-raising skills of conservative Richard Viguerie have helped amass more than $4 million for the former Marine colonel's campaign.

Col. North will also want to take the high advertising road, lest Sen. Robb or other opponents insist on reminders of Iran/contra and Col. North lying to Congress.

What will work in political advertising this fall, like any other year, will vary, but there will also be some common threads.

"It will be Clinton-whether for or against him-and crime," Mr. Sabato said. "Healthcare may be an issue by the fall, but it's too early to tell."

Echoing that view was Mark Mellman, a Democrat pollster whose clients include the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Ms. Brown in California.

"If there is a pre-eminent individual issue, it will be crime," he said. "So you will be seeing ads with candidates talking of their accomplishments on the issue ... Incumbents would like to run on healthcare but that's a big `if' right now.

"Incumbents will go with a broad sweep approach to their ads; this is the first time in 10 or 12 years that incumbents in the House and Senate will be able to campaign on a platform of real accomplishment."

Campaigning against crime carries some risk, though, as Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar learned upon unveiling a TV spot criticizing his Democratic opponent, Dawn Clark Netsch, as soft on criminals.

Chicago Alderman Jesse Evans quickly jumped on the 30-second spot produced by Sipple: Strategic Communications, Washington, as racially offensive and divisive, and compared it to the infamous Willie Horton commercial from George Bush's 1988 presidential campaign.

In the New York gubernatorial race, Republican state Sen. George Pataki fired off tough attacks on Mario Cuomo's record on crime and taxes, in his first TV spots in early May via Russo & Marsh, Washington.

Gov. Cuomo, following the what-I've-done-for-you-lately script that's so appealing to incumbents, two weeks ago released the first TV spots of his re-election effort. The six commercials from the Garth Group, New York, use man-in-the-street testimonials to reinforce the image of the three-term Democrat as a public servant of accomplishment.

Frank Luntz, who spent part of '92 as Ross Perot's presidential campaign pollster, said the anti-politician tack will be a major theme.

"The idea is to stop being politicians and start being real people," said Mr. Luntz, now working for several Republican candidates and polling for the GOP. "It's the idea that Washington is broken-permanently. There is a clear majority of the electorate that is hostile to the system, and I think you're going to see lots of ads that focus on government and why it's bad."

He thinks crime will be an ad issue, but one benefiting both sides.

Whether the president is a big target or a big comfort is uncertain; the former appears more likely if healthcare fails to pass. Democrats will trumpet passage of a bill; Republicans will scream about stopping big government getting bigger at the expense of individual health.

But Democrats are skittish after the May loss of a House seat that had been theirs for 41 years. Especially troublesome was the successful use of an explicitly anti-Clinton ad produced by the National Republican Campaign Committee for the special election. Titled "Morph," the :30 showed Democrat Joe Prather gradually metamorphosing into President Clinton with the tag, "If you like Bill Clinton, you'll love Joe Prather."

After Ron Lewis, a conservative Christian bookstore owner, eked out a win in the historically Democratic district, House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R., Ga.) beamed. "I wouldn't be too surprised to see that ad in 200 districts in October," he said.

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