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.
Jesse Jackson's low-budget campaign began running his first television ads of 1988 on cable TV stations Friday across Iowa. The two ads, one 30 seconds and the other 10 seconds, feature Jackson sitting in a chair talking straight into the camera, citing his hands-on involvement with striking workers and strapped farmers. He also mentions his successful mission to Syria to bring home Robert Goodman, a downed U.S. Navy flier.
Surge in the Polls
Gephardt campaign officials claim that a $300,000 advertising campaign launched Dec. 26 is a key factor in his recent surge in the polls. A Los Angeles Times poll last week found Gephardt and Simon in a virtual dead heat for first in Iowa, while an NBC poll made it essentially a four-man tie, adding Dukakis and Hart.
"Voters tune in to the race and make decisions in the final weeks of the primary," Gephardt spokesman Mark Johnson said, explaining the ad strategy.
But the campaign could barely wait it out. It originally told reporters it would not run ads until January, but as it saw Gephardt falling further in the polls the schedule was advanced by nearly two weeks.
The five spots show Gephardt talking directly from an Iowa street about the family farm, trade, the corporate establishment, intermixed with Iowa farm scenes and Detroit auto assembly lines.
In one, about trade tariffs in foreign countries, Gephardt advocates threatening to impose import fees on South Korea so that a Hyundai automobile would cost $48,000, the price he claims a $10,000 Chrysler costs in Seoul.
Babbitt spent $250,000 on an ad campaign in Iowa last summer. The ads included a biography, showed close-ups of the candidate talking about such issues as voter apathy and agriculture, and depicted him as a new kind of politician.
The Babbitt campaign said the commercials helped him attract an organization. Nevertheless, by fall, Babbitt had fallen to last place in the polls.
In one new ad, Babbitt, whom critics have charged is awkward on television, makes only a fleeting appearance. This ad features excerpts from glowing media stories about Babbitt in a way reminiscent of how producers of little-noticed art films advertise that their movie is getting great reviews.
Another ad, called "Imagine," depicts an Iowa victory for the Arizona governor as a fantasy in which truth triumphs over dissembling politics. Babbitt's campaign plans to spend another $100,000 before the Iowa caucuses on placing the spots.
Simon spent roughly $100,000 on two spots in November that showed the candidate talking stiffly into the camera about various issues. In one, Simon's habit of making karate chops in the air was pronounced.
'Proud of the Traditions'
A new, more dramatic 30-second spot begun last week shows Simon speaking at an Iowa meeting last November, calling for his party to elect "a real, make-no-apologies Democrat. . . . It is time to say once again that we are proud of the traditions of our party."
The crowd roars.
"We tested it and people got goose bumps," Simon spokesman Terry Michael said.
Dukakis, the best-financed Democrat, has pulled the ads he ran earlier this month in Iowa and this week launched two new ads in their place, making him the only candidate other than Robertson to have run three sequences of ads.
One calls for an end to military aid for the Contras in Nicaragua and shows still photos of bodies, soldiers and children there intercut with a Dukakis stump speech.
The new ads, campaign officials say, are designed to better bring out Dukakis' passion. Apparently, Dukakis' speaking to the camera in the earlier ads lacked fire.
Not as Effective
"I just don't think the (previous) ads were as effective," said Charlie Baker, Dukakis' New Hampshire campaign director, who said those early January ads probably won't be used in New Hampshire.
Dukakis even hired a second media consultant, Ken Swope & Associates of Boston, to produce one of the new ads, raising speculation among other campaigns that the Massachusetts governor is dissatisfied with his media consultant.
But campaign officials denied that, noting that the consultant, Payne & Co., still produced one of the new spots.
Dukakis started running ads in Iowa in November, including a basic biography spot, and is running those spots now in New Hampshire.