The vision of U.S. Rep. David McCurdy's nose growing and face
becoming demonic as a voice-over describes his remarks or
promises may well be the most vivid image of the 1994 campaign in
It is also part of a growing nationwide trend toward negative
campaign advertising, according to Julian Kanter, curator of the
Political Commercial Archive at the University of Oklahoma.
What is new about 1994 campaign advertising, in both the
Oklahoma U.S. Senate race and nationwide, is the Republican
effort to link Democratic candidates with President Clinton in
"Bill Clinton was the demon of the 1994 election. Republicans
understood very well the level of unpopularity of President
Clinton, and they tried to tie as many Democrats as possible to
Clinton in hopes that the unpopularity is transferable," Kanter
The most frequent user of this tactic in Oklahoma was U.S.
Rep. Jim Inhofe in his contest with McCurdy for David Boren's
U.S. Senate seat. His "Big Spender" ad showed McCurdy nominating
Clinton at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, with the
conclusion, "Without Congressman McCurdy, we might not have a
Similarly, gubernatorial candidate Frank Keating linked his
opponent, Lt. Gov. Jack Mildren, to Gov. David Walters, with a
description of Walters's legal problems and "questions" about
Mildren's own activities.
Inhofe and Keating won. Did the attempts of Republicans to
link Democratic opponents to other Democrats like Clinton and
Walters have any effect on the election's outcome?
"I think voters would have ousted the Democrats no matter what
ads had aired," Kanter said.
"The public's unhappiness with the state of affairs in
Washington was so profound, and they believed that the Democrats
having control of the legislative and executive branches was
responsible for their dissatisfaction.
"People like simple solutions to problems, and the simple way
to fix the problem was, in many voters' minds, to get rid of the
"This was true even at the state level, which has nothing to
do with Washington. Even popular incumbent Democrats lost their
races, like (Texas governor) Ann Richards."
The Pinocchio ad is an example of negative campaigning, which
Kanter defines as "that portion of campaign activity that focuses
on the opponent." He distinguishes between negative advertising
and the nature of the ad _ its spirit, degree of honesty,
accuracy, fairness and relevancy to the campaign.
Negative ads can work, provided the attack is seen by the
viewer as fair, accurate and relevant to the job, Kanter said.
The reason they are effective is the public is already cynical
about politics. But at the same time, the American public, at
least that segment that answers political communications surveys,
says it strongly dislikes negative ads.
"People say they find attack ads demeaning and irritating and
are sometimes turned off of politics so much they may not even
If negative ads are at least somewhat effective while
potentially offensive to those majority of voters who say they
don't like nasty ads, how does a candidate attack his or her
opponent without alienating the voter?
One way is with humor. Gubernatorial candidates Jack Mildren
and Wes Watkins both referred to manure in television spots.
Inhofe attacked McCurdy's support of the federal Crime Bill by
portraying heavy men waltzing in tutus. …