Television campaigning starts in earnest

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(Host) With the election just three weeks away, the airwaves will soon be saturated with political advertisements. Vermont’s two leading gubernatorial candidates are taking a very different approach in their electronic campaigns, as VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Both Republican Treasurer Jim Douglas and Democrat Lieutenant Governor Doug Racine turned to their families for their recent round of TV commercials.

Racine talked about his father:

(Sound from television advertisement)
(Racine) “My dad was a mechanic and I grew up working in the family business.”
(Narrator) “Doug Racine, the only major candidate with experience in business.”

(Dillon) And Republican Jim Douglas has his son star in his latest ad.

(Sound from television advertisement)
(Matt Douglas) “He’s a good man and he’ll make a great governor.”
(Narrator) “It’s time for a change. Vote Jim Douglas for governor.”

(Dillon) But that’s where the similarities end. This is Douglas’ fourth TV ad. He’s spent heavily on television and has had 30-second spots on the air since May. Democrat Racine has held back. He began his television campaign just this week.

Tom Hughes, Racine’s campaign manager, says they waited until now in order to target undecided voters. A recent VPR poll showed that 29% of those surveyed hadn’t yet made up their mind in the governor’s race:

(Hughes) “As we’ve seen in the polls, the undecided voters have remained remarkably consistent throughout the spring and summer. And I think the next poll that comes out will show that those numbers have begun to decline a little bit, and now’s the time for Doug Racine to have his message on the airwaves.”

(Dillon) Neale Lunderville, Douglas’s campaign manager, says the Republican started further back and needed to advertise early.

(Lunderville) “We had a lot of ground to make up. I think you’ll remember about a year ago at this time, Jim was 15 points down in the polls. The latest one shows he’s just outside the margin of error. And so we’ve made up a lot of ground.”

(Dillon) In the latest ad, Douglas’ son Matt says he couldn’t find work to match his skills in Vermont.

(Sound from television advertisement)
(Matt Douglas) “His top priority is to bring more and better paying jobs to Vermont. He knows how tough it is to find a good job in Vermont, because like a lot of young Vermonters, I had to go out of state to find my first job.”

(Dillon) Lunderville says the ad shows that Douglas shares the same pain of many Vermonters.

(Lunderville) “I think we’re trying to get through the point that Jim is not unlike many, many Vermont parents who are concerned about the futures of their children. And also to make clear that it’s going to be a priority, the number one priority, of a Douglas administration.”

(Dillon) Racine’s ad also talks about jobs. And while Racine is a veteran politician, the ad makes the not-so-subtle comparison that the Democrat has also worked in the private sector. Douglas has spent much of his career in political office.

So far, the ads project a positive image of both candidates and do not attack each other’s positions. But Douglas has also blanketed the news media with faxes that call attention to what he says are Racine’s frequent flip-flops on the issues.

Douglas’s campaign says their ads may get more aggressive. If so, expect Racine to fire back, perhaps with criticism of Douglas’ performance as state treasurer.

(Hughes) “Doug Racine can win this campaign by being positive throughout. If Jim Douglas decides he wants to move his negative fax campaign on to the television airwaves and attack Doug Racine on television, the Racine campaign will have to respond.”

(Dillon) Television viewers better get used to a steady barrage of ads between now and election day. Lunderville says television is the most effective way to reach voters.

(Lunderville) “It’s just a part of politics. Jim tries to go out and meet as many voters as he can but you’re never going to meet everybody. So the best way is to try to come into their living rooms and tell them what your vision for the future is.”

(Dillon) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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