Coleman, Franken turn up the heat in latest campaign adsby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
Republican Sen. Norm Coleman's re-election campaign has put out a new television ad that's sharply critical of DFL challenger AL Franken. The ad mocks Franken for past tax problems, rips him for a pornographic essay he wrote for Playboy magazine, and suggests virtually anyone is as qualified to serve in the Senate as Franken.
With the election less than four months away, new ads from both campaigns signal the gloves are coming off.
St. Paul, Minn. — Coleman's new 30-second spot is a folksy commercial that packs several hard punches. It features three guys hanging out at a bowling alley.
"The guys and I have been talking. Now we're reading all this stuff about Al Franken -- you know, not paying taxes, going without insurance for his employees, foul-mouthed attacks on anyone he disagrees with, tasteless, sexist jokes and writing all that juicy porn," the ad says.
The bowlers imply that Franken is a tax cheat and a pornographer, and conclude he's got absolutely no background worthy of a Senate candidate.
"We've decided we're running for U.S. Senate. Why not? We're just as qualified as Al Franken," the ad concludes.
"They've resorted clearly here to misleading smear attacks," said Franken campaign spokesman Andy Barr. "But I guess that's predictable. They didn't have much to say for themselves."
Barr says it's not true that Franken didn't pay his taxes.
"As has been stated many, many, many, many times, Al and Franni paid taxes on every cent of their income," said Barr. "They overpaid in some states. They underpaid it in others. It's a mistake that's been rectified. The idea that there was a nonpayment of taxes is just simply wrong."
But Coleman campaign spokesman Luke Friedrich stands by the ad.
"There were countless reports -- you reported on it, Mark, a lot of people did -- that he did not pay taxes in 17 states. That's a reality," said Friedrich. "If you go into McDonald's and eat, but you go and pay Subway across the street, you can't say you didn't pay McDonalds."
The Coleman spot comes several days after the Franken campaign released what it called a "comparative" ad linking Coleman to the Bush White House, special interests and the wealthy.
"Franken: Tax cuts for the middle class. Coleman: Make Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent permanent," the ad claims.
The Coleman campaign called Franken's ad negative, claiming among other things that it misrepresents Coleman's position supporting middle-class tax cuts.
Coleman's latest ad features the same characters, in the same bowling alley used in a previous campaign commercial.
The first commercial focused on Coleman's legislative accomplishments, humorously overshadowed in the minds of the bowlers by Coleman's success in bringing professional hockey back to Minnesota when he served as St. Paul mayor.
The Franken campaign spoofed that Coleman ad with its own Internet version, using its own bowler.
"You want to know more about Norm Coleman? He voted to give billions of dollars in tax breaks to oil companies. Now they're raking in record profits, and we're paying four bucks a gallon for gas," said the ad. But, the bowler says, "He brought hockey back."
Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report says the recent ads are a clear sign that both campaign are getting more aggressive.
"This is a campaign on both sides that's been holding back for a while," said Duffy. "That the Franken campaign mocked Coleman's first bowler ad with a video that's on the Web that they are promoting heavily, it shouldn't surprise them that Coleman used his financial advantage to actually put the message on television."
Advertising expert Ron Faber at the University of Minnesota is close observer of political ad campaigns. Faber says Coleman's new ad, which uses the bowling guys for a second time, could signal that these average Joes will appear in more TV ads in support of Coleman.
"That is an interesting approach," he said, an approach Faber he hasn't seen in political ads.
Faber says it reminds him of successful product advertising, such as the series of Taster's Choice coffee commercials, which amounted to mini soap operas.
"If we see characters who reappear, that gets people's attention and it gets them interested," said Faber. "It gets them wanting to see more, and that may be a very effective approach."
But Faber says he doubts this latest Coleman ad will sway the blue-collar, white middle-aged men is obviously aimed at.
"I don't think it's going to be all that effective, other than to leave an overall impression that Franken may not be a very qualified candidate," said Faber. "But the specifics of it -- the pornography, he tells off-color jokes -- well, a lot of men do those kinds of things. That would be far more effective if the target were suburban women."
The Franken and Coleman campaigns were sitting on a total of nearly $11.5 million as of the end of June. That's a lot of money to pay for a lot more ads between now and November.
- Morning Edition, 07/24/2008, 7:20 a.m.