Candidates making last-minute push through campaign ads
Dakota Digest - 06/04/2010
by Gary Ellenbolt
South Dakota is a few days away from Tuesday's primary election. For candidates, it's the final chance to get their message out to the people who can advance them to the general election. For many years, the candidates have used radio, television and print ads to stand out from their opponents-now, they have the added benefit of social media. South Dakota Public Broadcasting's Gary Ellenbolt looks at political advertising on today's Dakota Digest.
It's no secret that the world of 19-52 was very different than the world we live in nearly 60 years later. This ad, featuring an animated parade, with supporters marching toward the White House, came from the presidential campaign of Dwight D. Eisenhower-and was one of the first of its kind on television. Future elections brought other memorable commercials to the screen.
There's no presidential election this year, but South Dakota's airwaves are filled with ads, as voters decide on a new governor, and other key races. USD speech communication professor Terry Robertson studies political campaigns and commercials.
"Although I like door-to-door campaigning and find it to be the most effective way of reaching voters," Robertson says, "campaign commercials are still very important. Especially in the beginning for certain candidates when they have low name recognition. It's important that they get out there and introduce themselves to a wide range of people, and mass media is really the only way to do that."
Robertson and other experts say viewers shouldn't only listen to the words in a campaign commercial-they need to look at what isn't being said. I asked the help of SDPB graphic designer Amanda Schieffer, to look at a few of the state ads.
Of candidate Kristi Noem, Scheiffer says, "one of the things about Kristi is that she's very personable. I mean, it's very warm and fuzzy-but she comes across very strong, and she's a business woman. And she takes it to heart, and she's ready to work."
In one of the latest ads for candidate Blake Curd, he looks at the nation's issues, while bowling.
Schieffer says, "you know, your audience is going to be between 26 and 46-it's bringing ‘em both together. It's not a usual campaign ad where they're poking at each other and everything like that-he's just focusing on what he wants to change."
There's just one democrat running for Governor this year-that's Scott Heidepreim. He pokes some fun at the Republican-controlled legislature and compares the state's budget to an elephant in the room. Schieffer enjoys the ad.
"The Elephant-oh, my goodness that is so funny...I've laughed at that so many times, and it makes you want to learn more about him, and what he stands for."
None of the candidates to this point are running serious attack ads on South Dakota's airwaves-but USD's Terry Robertson says they could come in the general election.
"I will always argue that negative ads are race-specific," says Robertson, "that negative campaigning can work, dependent on the race."
One memorable time when it didn't work is in the 2002 Republican Gubernatorial primary-one of the ugliest in recent memory, featuring an ad-war between then-attorney general Mark Barnett and businessman Steve Kirby.
Quoting state political veteran Ron Volesky, Kirby and Barnett went into the middle of the street at high noon and shot each other. That left the door open for the third candidate to win the primary-and eventually, his first of two terms as governor.
Robertson says, "you had a three-person race where two of them got involved in the negativity-and that left Governor Rounds as an outlier and he definitely used that to his advantage. He ran positive and became a clear demarcation of the negativity that's out there."
More and more, candidates are using what's known as "New Media"-sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and their own sites, to influence voters. Robertson says the trend will continue.
"It's just so much easier for most folks to sit down at their computer at 11:30 at night when they don't have anything else to do, rather than perhaps watch evening news at six o'clock. And so that's how, at least, I would argue how a lot of younger folks are getting information."
Once votes are counted on Tuesday, South Dakota's viewers and listeners can probably count on at least a small respite from the ads before next week's winners start their work toward November.
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