Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Most Presidential Candidates Abandon Newspaper Advertising

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Most Presidential Candidates Abandon Newspaper Advertising

Article excerpt

Pols who talk out of both sides of mouth dislike issue ads by joe nicholson

With George W. Bush attempting to tag upstart John McCain with a knockdown punch in South Carolina, nearly all the advertising jabs are being thrown in TV spots. Most candidates and most ad agencies appear to be giving little thought to using newspaper ads.

The TV obsession of political strategists is based on their conviction that victory comes to those who project a winning personality with tube ads, according to several newspaper ad directors.

When crunch time comes, as it may for Bush and McCain in South Carolina, the newspaper ad executives said the first temptation of TV- obsessed political strategists will be to return to the tube with last- minute attack ads.

From the vantage point of newspaper ad executives, candidates and their handlers act like punch-drunk fighters lunging at opponents with sweeping uppercuts and forgetting most fights are won with a combination of crosses and jabs.

"Ads [in presidential primaries] have been slowly dropping off over the last 20 years because the people [who] spend the ad dollars feel that TV ads, especially the negative attack ads, can be more effective," said Larry Tarleton, assistant publisher and chief operating officer at The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C.

Tarleton expressed a bit of optimism that his paper will get some candidate ads as the Feb. 19 primary, which involves only Republican candidates this year, draws closer.

"If they want to target their message to South Carolinians, I think newspapers are the best way," said Tarleton, sounding more hopeful than convinced.

"What's the real important issue in New Hampshire may not be the most important issue in South Carolina," said Tarleton, who quickly conceded candidates often want to hide their positions on issues. "They make sure they don't talk about the Confederate flag. That's not such a big issue here, except with a small group. They want to dodge that issue all they can, and I don't blame them. They're not going to win on that issue with the group of constituents they want to reach."

So far, the only primary-related newspaper ads have been full-page anti-abortion ads that ran in The Post and Courier and The State, based in Columbia, the state capital, and four or five small ads in weekly or daily newspapers announcing appearances by Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes.

The anti-abortion ads, sponsored by the Columbia-based South Carolina Citizens For Life, exemplify the unique ability of newspapers to lay out a broad array of facts about an issue. The ad lays out nine issues that reflect sharp differences between the pro-choice policies of President Clinton and the pro-life policies of former President Bush, beginning with whether the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Roe vs. Wade decision should be overturned.

Last month, during the Iowa party caucuses, advocacy groups bought an estimated $200,000 worth of newspaper ads, according to Chris Ingalls, an account executive with Customized Newspaper Advertising, the ad sales arm of the Iowa Newspaper Association. The biggest advertiser was a group urging stricter immigration limits, said Ingalls, who added it may have been motivated by concerns about an influx of Mexicans taking jobs in meat-packing plants.

Other Iowa advocacy groups that took out newspaper ads included an organization that supports current immigration policies; a conservation group; an elderly rights organization; and a branch of the American Medical Association.

Ingalls struck gold with Forbes, who spent an estimated $230,000 for 50 or 60 ads in about 30 of the state's 38 dailies as well as another two dozen or so ads in weeklies. Most of Forbes' ads promoted his appearances in communities around the state, with the remainder designed to boost his image.

The Forbes ads came in off and on over a number of months, said Ingalls, who recalled a Forbes campaign official would telephone him periodically, saying, "We're going on this tour. …

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