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Still from Jay Inslee's campaign ad, August 2, 2012.

Still from Jay Inslee's campaign ad, August 2, 2012.


Inslee, McKenna And DelBene Go For Gold In Olympics TV Ads

Deborah Wang

It's down to the wire for candidates running for political office in Washington state. They have until Tuesday to woo voters in this year's primary.

Three candidates are spending heavily on television ads that are running at a time when they are getting a lot of notice. KUOW's Deborah Wang has the story.


If you want to reach voters, and you've got lots of money to spend —

Announcer: "Adrian with the gold for the US!"

Airing political ads in between gold medal performances at the Olympics —

Announcer: "Oh, my gosh! Unbelievable!"

— is a pretty safe bet.

Domke: "You have such a guaranteed audience, so it's kind of like putting an ad during Super Bowl. The reality is you are getting a lot of bang for your buck."

That's David Domke. He's chair of the communications department at the University of Washington and an expert on political communication. We've asked him to look some ads and give them his best Olympic score.

But first, let's meet our competitors. There are only three of them airing ads during the Olympics. They're paying $10,000 for a 30–second prime–time spot.

TV ad: "Jay Inslee: Independence and ideas to build a working Washington."

Jay Inslee is a Democrat who is running for governor.

TV ad: "That's the new direction for Washington, paid for by friends of Rob McKenna, Republican."

Rob McKenna is a Republican candidate for governor.

TV ad: "I'm Suzan DelBene and I approved this message."

And Suzan DelBene is a Democratic candidate for Congress in the 1st District.

Of the three candidates, DelBene has bought the most spots during the Olympics; a total of 52. Here's her latest one:

TV ad: "It's Suzan DelBene! Suzan DelBene! Suzan DelBene!"

According to the UW's David Domke, the purpose of this DelBene ad is pretty straightforward. It's a name recognition ad.

Domke: "You know, in my class, one of the classes I teach at the UW, I show a classic ad from 1960, a John Kennedy ad, and the whole ad goes like this: Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy. That's all the ad does. And we laugh about it because it's just so silly, but it's clear that that is what they were trying to do, is just drive the name."

DelBene is one of seven candidates running for the 1st District Congressional seat. She has put more than $2 million of her own money into her campaign, and more than half of that has gone into TV ads. Her closest Democratic rival in the race, Darcy Burner, has accused her of trying to buy the election.

Our next two competitors are a contrast in style.

Inslee: "To pay for college, I drove a bulldozer."

That's Democrat Jay Inslee. He starts out his ad standing next to a big yellow bulldozer and then talks to three guys in hardhats.

Inslee: "The old ways aren't working. Let's plow new ground and create jobs."

Republican Rob McKenna's latest ad is on the less serious side. It shows him as an eager dad telling his wife and kids about his ideas for the state.

McKenna: "Connor, school should focus on science, technology and math for tomorrow's jobs."

Connor: "More homework dad?"

The UW's David Domke says the two ads couldn't be more different.

Domke: "I know that a lot of research goes into these advertisements and they have decided that maybe McKenna is trying to appeal to tech corridor, and Inslee is trying to appeal to maybe the lunch–pail working class."

And Domke says the McKenna ad seems to be targeting women, while the Inslee ad seems to be targeting men.

So now we come down to the scoring.

Wang: "If you were the judge here and you were going to award gold, silver, bronze medal — "

Domke: "I gotta go with Inslee on the gold."

Domke says Inslee's bulldozer ad does a good job promoting him as tough and strong, which he says never hurts in a political campaign.

And for the silver medal?

Domke: "I gotta go with Delbene. Because I think that, again, there is no downside to a name recognition ad, and in that cluster that she is trying to break out of, I think name recognition is probably all that is needed right now."

And in last place, Domke puts the McKenna ad. He says it's too targeted to a particular audience — in this case, women — and he says it's a little too silly.

Domke: "There is a fine line between cheesy, which DelBene's is, and goofy, which I think McKenna's is. And I think McKenna's ad crosses over into goofiness, and as a candidate you've got to have a certain gravitas."

But of course judging political ads is highly subjective. And the final judgment will come not from experts but from voters. And just a reminder, your ballot needs to be mailed by the end of day on Tuesday.

I'm Deborah Wang, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2012, KUOW