With Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean ahead in the polls in New Hampshire and Massachusetts—the home state of rival Sen. John Kerry—the former Vermont governor is emerging as the candidate whose ad messages are resonating most with voters, agency and academic experts contend.
So far, Dean has consistently emphasized his opposition to the Iraq war in the two spots his campaign has launched. In the 30-second ad "Different View," Dean adopts a two-pronged strategy, attacking opponent Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and President Bush at the same time. The ad shows Gephardt appearing in the Rose Garden at the White House when the congressional authorization that allowed Bush to wage war in Iraq was announced. The ad notes that Gephardt supported Bush's request of $87 billion in spending to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the second spot, "Misled," an announcer charges that Bush "misled the nation about weapons of mass destruction." Both spots were created by political consultancy Trippi McMahon & Squier in Alexandria, Va.
"[Dean] … is getting his message out there in a clear and consistent way," said Phil Dusenberry, former chairman of BBDO North America and part of the "Tuesday team," which worked on Ronald Reagan's 1984 campaign.
Tom Messner, partner at Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners who also has worked on Republican campaigns, said Dean's message is clear because his advertising reflects the exact style he uses in debates. "He's hard-nosed, tough, and he picks his opponent and fights hard," Messner said.
Lack of consistent advertising has hurt other Democratic contenders, Dusenberry said. In recent weeks, Kerry's campaign has released four spots with subjects that vary from attacking Bush for siding with lobbyists to touting affordable healthcare. Wesley Clark's campaign on Nov. 18 launched a spot called "Story" that focuses on his military background, which Messner said most voters already know.
Gephardt has seven spots airing in Iowa and New Hampshire, with the most recent using his son's battle with cancer to discuss healthcare. Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., is airing 14 spots whose subjects range from jobs to education. Three spots for Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., focus on his tax plan and why he supported Bush on spending in Iraq.
A four-day poll conducted from Nov. 17-20 by Manchester, N.H.-based American Research showed Dean leading Kerry by 21 points in New Hampshire. A Boston Globe poll from Nov. 19-22 found Dean holding a 27-point lead over Kerry in Massachusetts. And an early November poll by the Des Moines Register showed Dean narrowly trailing Gephardt in Iowa.
Darrell West, professor of political science at Brown University, said Dean should now cement his advantage with ads that show he is a Washington outsider. "A potent argument for Dean is not being part of the Washington establishment," West said. "Most of our recent presidents have come from outside Washington."