Wednesday, January 28, 2009

McAuliffe's TV Strategery

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe is up and running with the first television ads in the Virginia governor's race. (See "Va. Governor's Race Up, Running On TV.")

Is it a good strategy?

Perhaps. But it's not an effective expenditure of campaign funds. If the strategy is to use television to get Democratic voters to support McAuliffe in the June primary, then it's a total waste of money. The average voter is not thinking about that election now, indeed doesn't even WANT to think about it.

Furthermore, television has waned significantly as an influence in political elections, in part because the television audience has become so fragmented. Many viewers fast forward through ads on their DVR's, and in any event political ads have become so predictable and hackneyed that they are about as effective as those GM ads for bland Chevy products.

In the presidential race, the candidates' television ads basically cancelled each other out. The big difference--apart from history--was in field organization and message/theme control.

That said, it could make strategic sense for McAuliffe to start some limited television advertising, if only to rattle his opponents and signal confidence to the "money people"--the more sophisticated political insiders who will finance the race.

One strategist, quoted in the Washington Post story on the advertising, said McAuliffe needed to run ads to "define himself" before his opponents defined him. That's typical political strategist BS, usually uttered by someone who stands to make a bundle helping buy and/or make television ads. McAuliffe's opponents are in no position to "define" him at this point, and in any event, running ads that no one pays attention to are hardly going to define Mr. M.

Whatever McAuliffe's strategy, his opponents should ignore him; at a minimum they certainly shouldn't waste their own money on television this early. We thought Creigh Deeds hit the right note, saying "if this campaign is about money, it ain't about me," a recognition that he won't be able to keep pace with McAuliffe in fundraising.

Meanwhile, Bob McDonnell, the presumptive Republican nominee, should resist the temptation of his own strategists to run ads before the Democratic primary in June. To what end? McCain wasted a ton of money running ads early last summer, to no effect whatsoever. McDonnell should adhere to the old military adages: "keep your powder dry" and "wait until you see the white's of their eyes."

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