California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird parted the curtain on her fall reelection strategy for the first time Monday with the unveiling of two 30-second campaign commercials that present Bird as a person with the "backbone" necessary to protect basic constitutional freedoms.
The commercials, which will air in six cities beginning Saturday, feature the chief justice sitting at her desk, relaying upbeat messages that do not explore any of the dominant campaign issues, such as her record on the death penalty.
Instead, the commercials underscore points that Bird has made in speeches, with the "backbone" message emphasizing that she is a justice who won't bend to political pressure.
In one commercial, Bird says that Americans continue to enjoy freedom of worship and freedom of speech because of judges who are not afraid to uphold the Constitution. "Judges with a backbone are a California tradition worth keeping," she says, seated before the camera wearing a blue dress and not her judicial robes.
In the second commercial, Bird says that the seven-member state Supreme Court reflects the state's great tradition of ethnic and intellectual diversity. According to campaign aides, the message reinforces Bird's contention that a court made up of liberals, conservatives, a black, a Latino and a woman can be counted on to represent the views of all the people.
Campaign spokesmen said that the two commercials cost $250,000 and will run for two weeks in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento and Fresno. Bird has collected slightly more than $1 million in campaign contributions.
Up to now, Bird's reelection strategy had been a well-guarded secret. As public opinion polls have continued to show her losing by a large margin, how she plans to fight back has became one of the more tantalizing questions of the campaign. It was especially intriguing given Bird's frequent criticism of conventional campaign tactics, including the use of 30-second TV spots which she has denounced as superficial and misleading.
As members of her campaign organization screened Bird's 30-second spots for reporters on Monday, they insisted that Bird's commercials, which they said she wrote, avoid the usual pitfalls of the medium.
"There is nothing superficial about speaking about principle," said Anthony Murray, the Los Angeles lawyer and former State Bar president who heads Bird's reelection committee.
Steven Glazer, Bird's chief campaign spokesman, said that the chief justice, in putting together the commercials, did not seek the help of professional political consultants whose help she has spurned all along on the grounds that they trivialize campaigns.
"We are raising the level of debate with these commercials," Glazer said. "We are going to win this campaign on the high road."
To win, according to the latest polls, Bird must overcome a 24-point deficit that has her losing by 57% to 33% with 10% undecided.
Murray and Glazer also strongly suggested that the two commercials will be followed by others that may deal more specifically with issues that have been raised during the campaign.
"This is just the beginning," Glazer said. "We know it won't answer every doubt a person might have. But it is an opportunity for the voter to see the chief justice as she is and for her to deliver a direct and personal message."
Opponents of Bird criticized the commercials for not dealing with campaign issues such as the death penalty.
"It is interesting that Bird has left her personal views out of her commercials but not out of her Supreme Court decisions," said Janet Byers, the press director for the two main groups opposing Bird, Californians to Defeat Rose Bird and Crime Victims for Court Reform.
Byers also said that Bird's commercials will not change the opponents' plans to hold off on their television campaign until early October. By then, said Byers, the opposition groups expect to have $1.5 million on hand to pay for their own commercials.
However, Edward Jagels, district attorney for Kern County and chairman of Crime Victims' steering committee, said even if they wanted to begin airing their own message now the major opponent groups couldn't pay for it. Jagels said he hoped that Bird's commercials would awaken people to the fact that her defeat is not a foregone conclusion and that, even to go on television in October, the campaign against her requires more money.
Even though the opposition groups have raised $4.6 million, their most recent financial reports showed they have spent all but $325,000, with most of the money going to pay for a massive yearlong direct-mail campaign. In contrast, Bird's statement showed she had raised about $1.1 million while spending very little of it up to now.