If anyone wonders why Democrat Michael S. Dukakis is trailing Republican George Bush in California, one clue is in the direct mail strategies of the two campaigns.
The Bush campaign, using techniques perfected in California, has sent millions of pieces of mail to Reagan Democrats, this election’s key swing bloc of voters.
By contrast, the Dukakis campaign did not target Reagan Democrats and did not budget nearly as much for mail as the GOP because Dukakis’ East Coast advisers were not convinced that direct mail is effective in a presidential campaign.
But that opinion is not shared by the campaign’s own California mail specialists, Rose King of Sacramento and Marco Turbovich of Los Angeles.
“I recommended a lot more mail than we’re doing,” King said in an interview Tuesday. “California is unique in the sophistication we apply to communicating a political message by mail. I couldn’t get the (Dukakis) people in Boston to understand that.”
Turbovich said: “The Bush campaign is using direct mail very effectively in California. They have a clearly defined target group and they have an issue those people relate to.”
The issue is crime. The Bush campaign mailed out two hard-hitting pieces to Reagan Democrats featuring unflattering photos of Dukakis as well as photos of an elderly woman looking out from behind a chain on her door.
The mail calls Dukakis a “public safety disaster” and notes that he opposes the death penalty. It also brings up the case of Willie Horton, the convicted murderer who left Massachusetts on a prison furlough and later beat a Maryland man and raped his fiancee.
“Being tough on criminals is a big issue with Reagan Democrats,” said Brian Lungren, executive director of the Bush campaign in California.
Lungren denied a charge by the Dukakis campaign that the case of Horton, who is black, sends a subtle racist message to the Reagan Democrats, most of whom are conservative whites.
“The Dukakis campaign ought to grow up,” Lungren said.
Ray McNally, the Republican consultant who did Bush’s California mail, thinks the Dukakis campaign simply ought to send more mail.
Puzzled by Approach
He said he was puzzled by the Dukakis approach and added: “It just underscores the difference between East Coast thinking on this and California thinking.
“In the East, where cities are more compact, precinct organization is much more popular than it is in a big state like California. Here it’s TV and mail.
“Direct mail was born of necessity out here because in congressional races in Los Angeles it is impossible for a campaign to use expensive TV and radio time effectively. You need to reach your set of voters in a congressional race, but (in Los Angeles County) if you use TV you are paying to reach 7 million other voters you don’t need.
“With direct mail you can target your voters. We’re simply using the same technique in the presidential campaign to reach a defined group of swing voters.”
King acknowledged that the same reasoning would apply to Eastern cities “but they just aren’t using direct mail yet as much as we do out here.”
Bob Boorstin, a Dukakis adviser in Boston, said in a telephone interview that the campaign had to make a decision on where to put its resources and concluded that it would be more effectively used on television and in creating a strong voter-turnout organization in California.
Targeted Lapsed Voters
King said that the Dukakis campaign itself had mailed to only 530,000 loyal Democrats in California, choosing those whose voting records showed a tendency to miss elections in the past.
Each piece of Dukakis mail included an absentee ballot application that will allow these targeted voters to cast their ballots by mail.
In addition, a number of constituency groups such as environmentalists and organized labor have sent out direct mail on Dukakis’ behalf.
In both instances, the goal is to turn out the maximum likely Democratic vote.
The Republicans, citing studies which show their loyal voters don’t need as much coaxing, turned their attention instead to the Reagan Democrats.
Paul Ambrosino, a Democratic direct mail specialist in San Francisco said: “It’s a strategic decision: Is your dollar better spent trying to turn out loyal Democrats with a weak voting history, or is it better spent trying to persuade marginal Democrats?
“I would argue that in a state that is up for grabs, if there is an identifiable universe of voters critical to your chances of winning--Reagan Democrats in this case--the money is better spent persuading them to support you.”