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Van de Kamp TV Ads Focus on Death Row, Will Air Today

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp joins the battle of the advertising airwaves tonight with a commercial that brashly credits him with keeping San Quentin’s Death Row full to the brim. The lagging Democratic contender is the last of the big-three would-be governors to undertake an advertising campaign in this state where media advertising is crucial.

The 30-second television commercial presents Van de Kamp as a champion of four issues that have emerged as important elements of his campaign--gun control, the death penalty and his ballot initiatives on the environment and governmental ethics.

Campaign manager Richard Ross described the elements of the commercial on the eve of its airing in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento. Next, it is to spread to San Diego and the state’s lesser television markets.

Most eye-catching and eyebrow-raising is the commercial’s reference to the death penalty and its background footage of the gas chamber. The announcer declares that as two-term district attorney of Los Angeles County and two-term attorney general of California, Van de Kamp “put or kept 277 murderers on Death Row,” virtually its entire condemned population.

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This presumably has two goals: To catch the rising wave of public attention on the death penalty, now that California’s first contemporary execution is scheduled to occur in two weeks. Also, it is to show that Van de Kamp is hard-line on the emotional subject even while critics seek to fault his personal opposition to capital punishment.

One of Van de Kamp’s most dramatic campaign moments so far was his appearance last year before the state Assembly with an AK-47 rifle as he argued for a ban on assault rifles. This event introduces the commercial, and the announcer notes that Van de Kamp was sued by the National Rifle Assn. for his efforts.

The commercial says that Van de Kamp is sponsor of a major environmentalist ballot proposal to crack down on “cancer-causing pesticides” and to protect the coast. The on-screen image for viewers shifts to Time magazine, which uses the nickname ‘Big Green” for the measure.

Finally, the advertisement mentions Van de Kamp’s sponsorship of an ethics-in-government initiative, which would limit the terms of office for state politicians.

The tag-line or slogan is: “Take a stand--John Van de Kamp.”

Commercials are being watched extra closely this year because of the early success achieved by Van de Kamp’s Democratic rival, Dianne Feinstein. She went on the air first with a powerful biographical commercial just at a time when Van de Kamp’s campaign seemed to lose its focus. The result was dramatic--she surged ahead in the polls and he slipped badly. Feinstein still remains on the air in smaller markets.

Republican Pete Wilson, the two-term U.S. senator who has no serious opposition for the GOP nomination, nonetheless joined the advertising fray last week with a 60-second biographical spot. It also remains on the air.

So far, all the candidates are following the conventional political advertising path. That is, their opening ads seek to define their own campaigns. Next down this path, the candidates can be expected to switch to the attack.


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