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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Kaine, Kilgore negative TV attack ads not new politics; A1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

With less than six weeks until Election Day, the party-nominated candidates for governor have moved their fight to television.

Both Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine and Republican former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore have launched ads attacking each other’s record in markets around the state.

The ads are true, according to spokesmen for both campaigns. They say it’s their opponents who are being dishonest.

And it’s nothing unusual.

“Negative advertising is fundamental to politics, for the same reason that any kind of political discourse involves controversy,” said Craig Brians, an assistant professor of political science at Virginia Tech.

“If people only say good things about themselves, voters have no information about how to compare the candidates,” he said.

“Also, positive ads are incredibly boring.”

In Kaine’s ad “Slice,” a hand with a cake server carves generous portions of a three-layer cake labeled “Virginia Schools.”

“Jerry Kilgore wants to end the state lottery, slicing out 400 million dollars from local schools,” a female voice says over ominous-sounding music.

“Kilgore promised to repeal last year’s budget agreement taking another $1 billion away from our kids’ education,” the narration continues. “Any way you slice it, Jerry Kilgore will cut education.”

That’s just not true, according to the GOP candidate’s campaign.

Kilgore has said repeatedly that his opposition to the lottery when he first ran for attorney general in 1997 was based on the fact that it wasn’t being used for its stated purpose — education.

“I recognized that the lawmakers had broken trust with the citizens,” he said in an earlier interview with the Daily. “[Lottery proceeds] still hadn’t been rolled into education” in 1997.

After the GOP took control of the legislature in the late 1990s, though, “we rolled all those dollars” into education, Kilgore said, taking away any need to roll back the state’s most popular form of gambling.

“I have not encouraged a referendum on the lottery since then because now we’re being honest with our citizens,” he said.

It’s Kilgore, not Kaine’s ad “Slice,” who is being less than honest, Kaine spokesman Jeff Kraus said.

At the time, Kilgore told supporters he opposed the lottery on ethical grounds. He changed his tune in 2005 when confronted with the issue, Kraus said.

“He’s possibly one of the most disingenuous candidates in Virginia gubernatorial history,” Kraus said.

The same goes for the charge that Kilgore would roll back the 2004 tax hikes that moved another $1 billion or so per year into the state’s educational expenditures.

Camp Kilgore vehemently denies the charge.

“I’ve said it time and time again. I’m not going to re-battle the past,” Kilgore said at the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce debate with Kaine earlier this month.

While campaigns call each other names, “negative ads tend to be much more accurate than positive ads,” Brians said.

“You do want to leave your viewers with the least positive impression of your opposition while you’re not technically saying anything untrue, so there’s a fine line to walk there,” he said.

Kilgore’s people give as good as they get.

In “Water,” a bucket labeled “Kaine Record” is put under a faucet and starts to fill. It springs a leak as a male narrator talks about the Democrat’s record.

“Tim Kaine’s claims about his record go beyond the pale,” the voice says. “He says he cut property taxes. But under Kaine, real estate tax bills increased, some as much as 40 percent.”

Kaine’s campaign admits that the tax bills went up while their candidate was mayor, but the tax rate went down. The difference is higher real estate values, a boon for homeowners, according to the campaign.

The two have been fighting over the definition of “tax cut” for the better part of the year.

Kilgore’s ad also takes aim at Kaine’s record on job creation, among other things.

“Jobs? The unemployment rate under Kaine actually increased by 47 percent,” the narrator says. “The Kaine record as mayor. It just doesn’t hold water.”

Unemployment did go up while Kaine was mayor. In July 1998, the rate was 4 percent, according to the Virginia Employment Commission. When he resigned to run for lieutenant governor in September 2001, it was 5.1 percent.

Figuring the percentage increase of the percentage isn’t misleading, according to Kilgore spokesman Tucker Martin.

“The percentages we used are the employment numbers,” Martin said. “If it reflects poorly on [Kaine], then that’s an issue that he’ll have to confront.”

Negative ads don’t have to draw a bright-line connection between the candidate and the negative information, Brians said. It’s just got to spill over into the voters’ perceptions.

“[Kilgore’s ad has] changed the conversation to unemployment, and your opponent’s name is linked to it,” he said. “The Kilgore message is reinforced by examining the claims.”

And then there’s independent candidate state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester, whose single “pot banging” ad hasn’t seen a lot of airplay but has generated a lot of buzz on the Internet.

It’s not a traditional Virginia political ad, Brians said.

“It’s not traditional anything advertising,” he said. “I haven’t ever seen an ad just like that that was professionally produced.”

The ad starts with one man banging on a pot chanting “We want Potts.” It ends with a crowd of people in front of the old Frederick County Courthouse, beating on cookware demanding their candidate of choice.

In the last poll by Mason-Dixon, some 51 percent of likely voters didn’t recognize Potts’ name, even after garnering lots of publicity in trying to get into debates with Kaine and Kilgore.

“It certainly is a name recognition-building kind of ad,” Brians said. “It’s in kind of a country setting, he sounds and looks very different from the other two candidates who are very contemporary looking, kind of suburban.”

Election Day is Nov. 8.