Making light of Kerry

By Published on .

You might say there are two John Kerrys.

One is the intelligent, no-nonsense Massachusetts senator who delivers an often too-long speech. When he appears live on TV morning shows, he's earnest but seemingly devoid of personality.

Then there's the John Kerry who, in question-and-answer sessions with voters at campaign trail "chili feeds," jovially and humorously wows in a manner akin to Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, a presidential contender four years ago. He's a candidate who can alternately joke with Jay Leno about motorcycles and speak authoritatively about Iraq or health care.

As Mr. Kerry's campaign for the Democratic nomination moves forward and as he faces stronger opposition from Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., the question is how easily can the Kerry campaign successfully present that second image to voters.

"He's too somber. He needs to lighten up a little and to engage the way Jack Kennedy did," said Bob Dilenschneider, CEO of the Dilenschneider Group, a public relations agency that specializes in crafting high profile people's images. "He's got to come across to people as a person that they can relate to, because Bush comes across as being removed."

Mr. Kerry's best chance of winning is coming across as a clear alternative to President Bush in both platform and personality. "He has to go out and be a man of the people and even use the Reagan line, `There he goes again,"' said Mr. Dilenschneider. "As President Bush talks about fighting and attack, Kerry should talk about working together."

going that way

It appears the Kerry campaign is already leaning in that direction. Last week, it began running a TV spot in Oklahoma suggesting that the Bush administration had helped the wealthy and that it is time "to crack down on corporate corruption."

Moreover, the softer side of Mr. Kerry is becoming more apparent in some TV spots. In Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota, Delaware, Arizona and Missouri, the campaign is running a commercial featuring one of Mr. Kerry's wartime crewmates saying the candidate is good American. The Kerry campaign is also running an ad featuring another Vietnam War crewmate, Rev. David Alston in South Carolina and Missouri. All the ads are handled by Riverfront Media, a collaboration of Jim Margolis of Omnicom Group's GMMB and Bob Shrum of Shrum, Devine & Donilon.

David Doak, president of Doak, Carrier, O'Donnell & Associates, an ad agency that has handled a number of Democratic candidates, agreed that Mr. Kerry needs to adopt a campaign style more like a question-and-answer session than a standard stump speech. He must also try to get that same style across in TV appearances and ads.

Mr. Doak said projecting that image on TV isn't easy because 30-second ads don't allow much time for a candidate's personality to come across. "The move from 60-second ads to 30-second ads makes it difficult to shoot extemporaneously," he said.

A spokesman for Mr. Kerry said the candidate has presented his personal side strongly in ads, singling out one in particular that ran in Iowa and New Hampshire in which he talked about being cured for prostrate cancer. "That made the health-care issue more personal," said Dag Vega, the spokesman. "The victories in Iowa and New Hampshire validate that voters are reacting to his message. Sen. Kerry has found his voice on the campaign trail."

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