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CAMPAIGN JOURNAL : Instead of Door to Door, It's Now VCR to VCR

March 13, 1992|PAUL FELDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In rural Amador County, with a population that could comfortably fit in the grandstand at Dodger Stadium, door-to-door campaigning by statewide candidates might be considered an utter waste of time and resources.

But that is not preventing U.S. Senate candidate William E. Dannemeyer from turning up, in a fashion, in the living rooms of hundreds of potential Gold Country supporters this winter.

Dannemeyer operatives, such as Pine Grove resident Jim Hall, are spreading the gospel about the Orange County Republican congressman by distributing copies of a 23-minute campaign videotape to neighbors, co-workers and fellow church congregants across the state.

The slickly produced video, which focuses on Dannemeyer's personal background and staunchly conservative views on AIDS, family values and national defense, "gives you more depth than a 30-second TV ad," said Hall, a civil engineer.

"(Besides), door-to-door when the doors are thousands of feet apart is just not productive," Hall added. "And when you're looking at 30 million people in the state, it's impossible to cover the entire state."

Dannemeyer, a vitriolic antagonist of the National Endowment for the Arts, is one of several statewide California candidates employing the state-of-the-art techniques of video campaigning for the first time this year.

At the other end of the political spectrum, Rep. Barbara Boxer, a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate from Marin County, has distributed 400 copies of a seven-minute videotape for viewing at a series of fund-raising house parties across the state.

And two others vying for the same Republican Senate nomination as Dannemeyer--underfunded Claremont college professor Bill Allen and retired Glendale dentist Jim Trinity, a political unknown--have mailed campaign videos to leading Republicans and reporters in attempts to establish credibility for their long-shot campaigns.

Although videos have been distributed to voters by candidates in a smattering of mayoral and congressional races in California during the last five years, their use in statewide races is expected to become more common as duplication costs drop below the $2-per-unit threshold.

"Some glitzy direct mail packages are over a buck now, so it's not much more to ship an actual videotape," said Sacramento producer John Stoos, who prepared Dannemeyer's video.

Video is also a fresh enough gimmick, proponents say, that voters are willing to listen.

"In California, the number of VCRs is so high that if you vote, you have a VCR," said Sacramento campaign consultant Sal Russo. "(And) people think videos are valuable because when they don't return them to the store in time, they have to pay for them--so the tendency is not to throw videos out."

Or as Los Angeles campaign consultant Frank L. Tobe put it: "Like potholders, videos have a value. So far, it's not a turnoff."

No statewide campaigns have distributed videos to voters by the millions. But tapes have been used this year to solicit funds, stand in for candidates stuck in Washington or target groups of potential supporters.

Dannemeyer campaign officials say their video has been distributed to about 15,000 registered voters on mailing lists identified with conservative political causes. A message on the tape asks recipients to donate $5 toward production costs and to screen it, in turn, for others who share similar views.

"It's like a telephone tree, if you will," said Stoos.

"We knew from the beginning this would be a heavily weighted campaign to the grass-roots level. When you reach out to the gunners or the right-to-lifers, what do you do about them once they get excited?

"What video does is put it in their hands and make them an ongoing part of the campaign from then on," Stoos said. "Their job is to bring three or four people in their home, show them the tape, and it keeps branching out."

The Dannemeyer tape opens with an American flag flapping in the breeze as the narrator proclaims: "You know what America was--once. You know what's been happening to this once great country. Drugs, crimes, corruption in high places."

As the flag dissolves, it is replaced by an image of Dannemeyer striding down the steps of the Capitol. Later, there are visuals of Dannemeyer's parents, the house where he was born, a wedding portrait and footage of the seven-term congressman crawling on all fours as he frolics with his grandchildren in a park.

Boxer's video opens with the guitar-driven sounds of a Rod Stewart mimic wailing the words: "People have the power. People have the power."

Then, in short clips from speeches, the candidate repeatedly punches the air for emphasis while calling for a reduction in national defense spending and a stronger defense of the environment.

"We need a fighter in the United States Senate," the Bay Area Democrat concludes. "And it's no coincidence that my name is Boxer."

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