DFLer Amy Klobuchar started running the first television ad of the Senate campaign two weeks ago. Now, Republican Mark Kennedy has countered with an ad of his own.
The one-minute ad highlights Kennedy's family life, and doesn't mention his six years in Congress. In fact, Kennedy barely speaks in it at all. Instead, there is bouncy music and fast edits of Kennedy's family members talking about his upbringing.
The ad also focuses on how Kennedy met his wife and raised a family. It shows Kennedy holding family pictures and pokes fun at his choice of clothes.
Ron Faber, a professor of mass communications at the University of Minnesota, says the ad is an attempt to introduce Kennedy to voters as a family man.
"It makes the candidate seem like somebody you could know," says Faber. "It moves them down from being somebody who is an elite, and outside our normal realm of friends, to somebody we can identify with more. He's a common person."
While the ad showcases Kennedy's biography and sense of humor, it also has another focus. The ad takes a jab at Klobuchar's career as an attorney, and portrays Kennedy as an independent politician.
"Mark's not a lawyer, the Senate's got enough of those already," the ad says. It continues with Kennedy's children.
"Dad likes to help people. He's principled, independent, just not much of a party guy. I meant he doesn't do whatever the party says to."
Joe Kunkel, a political science professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato, says that part of the ad is a signal that Kennedy is trying to separate himself from President Bush and the Republican Party. Kunkel says Kennedy may be opening himself up to future criticism by saying he's an independent.
"He's coming across as a very nice guy and a fun guy in the ad. But as the campaign starts to narrow down on the particular issues, I think he's going to have a real problem with this line that 'I'm independent and I'm not a party man,'" says Kunkel.
During his years in Congress, Kennedy has voted with President Bush 90 percent of the time.
Kunkel says the Klobuchar campaign will probably work to remind voters that Kennedy says he's an independent but mostly votes with the president. The Kennedy campaign says the congressman's voting record parts ways with the president on significant issues, like the No Child Left Behind Act.
Klobuchar's latest ad focuses on her efforts to require HMOs to allow women to stay in the hospital for two days after they deliver a baby. The ad features video of Klobuchar's own daughter in a hospital incubator, and Klobuchar testifying before a legislative committee.
"We got one of the first laws in the country passed, guaranteeing new moms and their babies a 48-hour hospital stay," Klobuchar says in the ad. "I believe in standing up for people without fear or favor. Isn't that what they should be doing in Washington?"
Political scientist Joe Kunkel says Klobuchar's first two ads are typical introductions for a female candidate. He says the common perception, fair or not, is that female candidates aren't as strong as male candidates.
As people get to know the candidates better, I'll think we'll start seeing more attack ads.
"Traditionally, female candidates need to go the extra mile to demonstrate their toughness, especially when national security issues are important," says Kunkel. "So there's a determination, a toughness, that comes across in both of her ads."
Kunkel says Klobuchar's biggest vulnerability in the campaign is the unpopularity of lawyers, which is why the Kennedy campaign highlighted her career in the first ad.
The University of Minnesota's advertising expert, Ron Faber, say the first round of ads is not a surprise. Faber says political campaigns typically try to introduce their candidate to the voters in a first round of ads.
"As people get to know the candidates better, I'll think we'll start seeing more attack ads, more topic and issue-relevant ads, so I think it's the normal progression you'll see in a campaign," Faber says. "How extreme those are will be judged by the mood of the public and how the candidates are doing against each other."
Both Kennedy and Klobuchar face primary challenges from lesser known candidates. Miles Collins, Robert Fitzgerald and Stephen Williams, of the Independence Party, are running in a September primary. Michael Cavlan is the Green Party candidate.
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