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Dirty early: Senate campaign goes negative

Good Thursday morning Fellow Seekers of Wisdom and Truth.

The Norm Coleman for Senate campaign has launched a new TV ad, it's fifth of the year. It basically argues that Al Franken has no more qualifications to be a senator than any average Joe sitting around a bowling alley. You'll note the bowler who does all the talking was the star of Coleman's previous ad. You could say that this ad, and Franken's current ad, reflects the desire of Franken to make the race about Coleman's record and Coleman's desire to make it about Franken's lack of one.

Here it is:

Here's the script:

"The guys and I have been talking. We've read all this stuff about Al Franken: Not paying taxes. Going without insurance for his employees. Foul mouthed attacks on anyone he disagrees with. Tasteless, sexist jokes. Writing all that juicy porn. And we've decided we're running for U.S .Senate. Why not?  We're just as qualified as Al Franken, and we're better bowlers."


The Franken campaign has complained that the ad oversimplifies and overstates Franken's problems with his state taxes (he paid what he owed, but paid some of it to the wrong states, and the problem has been rectified, the Franken campaign claims) and with his failure to pay workers' comp insurance for his New York corporation.

Despite its humorous tone, the ad represents the first pure attack ad of the year, in the sense that it goes directly after Franken on a personal basis.

Franken's latest ad
Franken's most recent ad features a tough assault on Coleman's record and positions on several issues. It certainly doesn't portray Coleman's record the way Coleman would portray it. But, in classic political ad parlance, it's a contrast ad, highlighting differences between Franken's position on the issues and Coleman's. If you haven't been watching much TV, here's that ad:

The new Coleman ad doesn't mention Coleman at all, except to the extent required by law. (As is often the case with negative ads in recent cycles, the candidate gets the "I approved this message" out of the way in the intro.)

But you could say that Coleman is nonetheless going for contrast, unspoken in the ad but clear if you understand the main themes of the Coleman reelection bid, which is that Coleman has a 30-year record in government service. Franken doesn't.

The Franken campaign used the ad in a fund-raising email this morning to supporters, saying the ad is "the same old Washington smear politics" and is "designed to distract from [Coleman's] awful record of selling out Minnesota families to George W. Bush and the special interests."

It's unusual for things to go this negative this early. We're in for a long fall.

Last night, I sent emails to a few folks who know more than I do about political advertising to get their reactions to the new ad. If I hear back from some of them, I'll add their insights in the comment thread.

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Comments (5)

I wonder if Coleman & Franken will beat each other up enough to create a real opportunity for a non-Ventura IP candidate. Or is that excessively wishful thinking?

I solicited a reaction from Prof. Ron Faber of the U of M's School of Journalism and Mass Communications, who researches political communications and advertising. Here are his thoughts:

"“I did see the ad. This, and the one that preceded it, seem to be part of a series to define Coleman (first ad) and then define his opponent. I think it seems extremely negative to news junkies, but I think it is a somewhat confusing ad to those who haven't been following the campaign/news closely.
It does do the job of leaving the viewer with the take-away that Franken may not be well qualified, but even this requires you to know about him and his background. However, if you don't already know the specific issues, I think they may seem confusing here. There really is no detail or context to make them stick.
An even bigger question I have is who is the target market? I'd like to see the media buys for this and where it is being placed. It seems like the target market is men and probably more middle and working class males. This would fit well with the first ad in this series -- stressing that Coleman brought hockey back to Minnesota.
But this ad seems questionable to me for this group. The topics raised seem to be more issues that will upset women, especially suburban women, not middle and working class males. Thus, if you really pay attention to the ad it seems a little strange for that audience. If the target market is someone else, why the bowling theme?
The ending is a standard tactic in negative political ads -- use humor to try to reduce the potential backlash from a negative attack ad."

My thanks to Prof. Faber.

It's too bad that Coleman can't play on the issues. Overall I think the guys in the ad are creepy. Nobody in a bowling alley talks like that.

I saw it several times on - get this - the Hallmark channel. So the female and family crowd are the target, and their not understanding makes them even more susceptible. Frankly, Mr. Black and Prof Faber, I think you're being naive. The less people understand of the background issues, the more they will focus on the key words. That's what they'll take away and repeat.

I think the ad is border line libelous because Franken has never written "juicy porn." We may not agree his satire was effective or tasteful, but it was definitely NOT porn. All's fair in politics, but I think Coleman is right on the edge here. Maybe this ad will backfire on him the way Boschwitz's letter to Jews did, leading to Wellstone's victory. Let's make that happen.

Looks like the dreaded negative campaigns have begun.

My cure is the "Mute" button, while I mutter "A pox on all of them." It helps to keep one calm.