Bosley, Harmon Channel Their Messages onto TV Both Candidates See Ad Battle as Critical, for Different Reasons

Article excerpt

After weeks of ground warfare - forums and rallies, neighborhood coffees and fund-raisers - the candidates for St. Louis mayor have taken to the air.

Their ads are on TV.

For many city voters, experts say, those ads are the only times they'll see and hear former Police Chief Clarence Harmon and Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr., the two top candidates in the March 4 Democratic primary. The candidates know that, too. "If you're the incumbent, television is critical," says Bosley. He asserts that his ads are the only way for him to get positive publicity for his first term, while noting the differences between himself and Harmon. For Harmon, the challenger, TV ads are equally important for different reasons. "The goal of our ads would be to remind people of why they support Clarence and to remind people of why they want to vote against Bosley," says campaign manager Judi Roman. The two men already have tangled over Harmon's first TV ad. It is mainly biographical, showing Harmon as a youth and as a soldier. The ad also makes an indirect reference to the mayor with a plea to voters to "stop the corruption." Analysts have one piece of advice for St. Louis television viewers: Be prepared for an onslaught of negative ads in the last two weeks. Kurt Wildermuth, assistant professor of advertising at the University of Missouri at Columbia, says it's obvious why candidates attack each other in their ads. "Political consultants think they work," he says. "The downside is that many people believe negative ads not only destroy opponents, but also discourage people from voting." Even so, challengers like Harmon have little choice, he added. "If a challenger doesn't call an incumbent's record into question, who will?" William Benoit, associate professor of communications at the University of Missouri at Columbia, says candidates know that TV ads are the most important part of their campaign. "There's research that says the more a candidate spends on advertising (and the more TV exposure they get), the more likely they are to win," he says. Attack ads usually run no more than five days. Biographical and positive spots that promote a candidate generally run longer, often combined in the last days of a campaign with ads critical of their opponents. Bosley and Harmon have hired Washington advertising firms that filmed and produced their ads. The firms are buying time from local TV stations. Consultants say it costs between $75,000 and $100,000 a week to air the ads. Martin Hamburger, Harmon's ad consultant, says selling candidates is similar to selling hamburgers - with a key difference: A McDonald's ad may air thousands of times to deliver its message. …