Breathless and patriotic, those TV ads are back, in places like Pocahontas, Iowa, and East Lempster, N.H., and they are heading this way.
The Marlboro-voiced narrator. The heart-tugging music, now mostly produced by synthesizer. The grainy still photos of military days and parents. The freeze-frame of the candidate's wife looking adoringly at her man. The candidate talking to farmers next to a plow. And sometimes the man himself talking right into the living room.
With less than two weeks left before the Iowa caucuses, the video game of presidential politics--the war of paid political advertising--has begun in earnest.
And the images, some intentional, some not, say a great deal about the campaign strategies of the 13 presidential candidates.
New York Rep. Jack Kemp, trailing badly in opinion polls in the Republican presidential race, hit the air last week in New Hampshire and Iowa with the first "attack ads" critical of Vice President George Bush and Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, a sign that the Kemp campaign must do something bold even at the risk of a backlash inherent in any negative advertising.
Timing an Issue
Timing also has become an issue--whether to get on the air fast to build a lead or wait until voters are focusing more on the campaign.
Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt's campaign waited until after Christmas to begin airing ads in Iowa, unlike the rival Democratic campaigns of Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, Illinois Sen. Paul Simon and former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt.
And, even though it nervously jumped on the air two weeks earlier than expected, the Gephardt campaign attributes much of the credit for its candidate's sudden return to the top of the pre-caucus polls to the media strategy.
The art of presidential advertising, Democratic media consultant Carter Eskew said, is to complement the message voters see on television news, or the advertising can seem phony. The latest ads now running rely more heavily on actual campaign footage than an earlier round of ads run in November.
Bush is selling his resume, his promise to cut the deficit without raising taxes and his support of the intermediate-range missile treaty.
Traces Bush Career
Bush's biographical ad traces his career from the Navy, through Congress and the CIA to his swearing-in as vice president, and concludes: "The more you learn how George Bush came this far, the more you realize that perhaps no one in this century is better prepared to be President of the United States."
Dole has just one spot, a biographical ad, that plugs his leadership and humble Kansas roots, which implicitly underlines Bush's wealthy background and reputation as a loyal follower in the Reagan Administration: "Dole for President. One of us."
Former Delaware Gov. Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV's ads, which ran in November and are on again now in Iowa and New Hampshire, reflect the high-risk strategy of a man trailing in the GOP contest. They emphasize issues, and do not shy from some of his most controversial positions.
One shows a chalk board with the word "math" written on it. The word is not written in chalk, it turns out, but cocaine. As the camera pulls back, a student leans over and snorts the letter "T" from the word. Du Pont then explains that as President he would require people to pass drug tests to get driver's licenses.
Possible Double Meaning
"Who's for it? Only Pete du Pont," says the narrator, a tag line that might seem to have a double meaning if few voters back him.
Former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. promises he would be a better GOP candidate because as a former general he knows the horror of war and is better equipped to negotiate with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
Kemp's attack ads charge that Dole and Bush voted in the Senate to "cut future Social Security benefits." One designed for chilly New Hampshire charges "Washington insiders want higher oil prices," and shows Bush smiling with Saudi King Fahd.
The advertising campaign of Pat Robertson is designed largely to persuade people that there is more to him than TV evangelism, according to campaign officials.
The founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network is probably among the highest TV spenders in Iowa, although the campaign refuses to disclose figures.
The campaign has four half-hour programs on foreign policy, education, the economy and the family running this week in "that 'Wheel of Fortune' slot right before prime time," campaign spokesman Scott Hatch said.
"It's Pat very much in a Donahue setting, with a moderator who interviews Pat and takes questions from a live audience," Hatch said.
The Robertson camp also is sending a speech by their man on videocassette to every registered Republican in Iowa.
On the Democratic side, two of the campaigns are sitting out the video game. Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr., who is not contesting the Iowa caucuses, is currently shooting ads for New Hampshire, and former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart so far is not using TV advertising.