Campaign Ads Range From Animated To Downright Dull

October 28, 1990|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

If you don't take them too seriously, the commercials now being aired by local politicians on cable television can be fun.

The quality ranges from fairly good to just plain awful. Some of the messages are hard-hitting, others absurd. If nothing else, the commercials are an indication of what the politicians, at least, think is their best selling point.

With one exception, you will not learn from the commercial what party the candidate belongs to. Here's a hint: the Democrats are the people in suits; the Republicans are the guys in shirt sleeves.

"Guys" is almost the correct word. Only three women, County Executive M.

Elizabeth Bobo, County Council chairman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, and Margaret Rappaport, a Republican seeking to become Circuit Court clerk, were starring in their own productions.

If you're a cable subscriber and have missed the commercials so far, don't give up. The 30-second spots appear 84 times a week on the USA network, TNT network, Cable News Network, ESPN and Cable Network Headline News, says Robert S. Bucklew, president of Cable Media Advertising, which sells Howard's cable advertising.

All that air time costs a bundle, right? Wrong. The Federal Communications Commission says politicians must be given the best deal possible. If the station gives price breaks to people who commit to a year's worth of ads, then politicians can pay no more than that rate even if they advertise only for an hour. It's the law.

Given the fact that Bobo has a huge war chest and it costs a politician only $312.50 to air 84 commercials -- much less than for us ordinary people -- her commercials appear a little cheesy. No animation at all -- just stale photos with a voice-over saying Bobo is an effective leader responsible for environmental legislation.

Republican challenger Charles Ecker has only a third of the money Bobo has raised but his commercials are animated. In one, houses that look like they came from a Monopoly game keep springing up with rat-a-tat-tat sound effects on a map of the county as an announcer blames Bobo for rapid growth. In another, Ecker appears in shirt sleeves (he's a Republican, remember) with kids on slides to tell people how Bobo has divided the county and threatened the life they've come to enjoy.

Pendergrass' commercial makes her look a little like a Republican because it begins informally with her taking a walk with her children in the woods. Her natty attire, however, clearly reveals her as a Democrat.

The scene changes and we see Pendergrass acting as council chairman and meeting with various groups of people outdoors to accomplish things.

Dennis Schrader, Pendergrass' GOP challenger, is the only candidate to let people know his party affiliation. One of his commercials is a series of talking heads. It begins with two of them announcing from the start that they are Democrats for Schrader. When he appears, Schrader has his tie loosened and his shirt sleeves rolled up. "I'm ready to go to work for you," he says.

Incumbent Delegates Bob Flanagan and Robert Kittleman in District 14B have perhaps the slickest commercial. It begins with their walking down the steps in front of the Capitol in Annapolis, smiling, coats tossed rakishly over their shoulders Republican-style. The scene fades to large vistas -- road construction, schools with playful children, rolling forests, bucolic farmland. An announcer credits them with all this, calling them "an effective team working to preserve a high quality of life for you."

Democrats Lloyd Knowles and Jim Kraft, the challengers in 14B, have filmed what may be the worst commercial in the campaign. In what seems a protracted opening scene, the two just stand there in their business suits against a blank background. Knowles rattles off what he calls the issues for the '90s while Kraft stares out at the camera with a look that can only be described as stark terror. Mercifully, the screen turns to print -- their endorsements -- and a voice-over by Gov. William Donald Schaefer urging voters to "send this great team to Annapolis."

Republican Chris McCabe, who is again challenging Democratic Sen. Edward Kasemeyer in District 14, has one of the hardest-hitting commercials. It begins with smoke billowing from a tall stack as an announcer says, "Ed Kasemeyer's record is so bad on the environment that he was ranked lowest of the 32 legislators in the two counties he reresents." A shirt-sleeved McCabe emerges from a small square in the middle of a black screen to tell us he is "committed to protecting the environment as state senator."

Republican County Council candidate Darrel Drown in District 2 appears in a sweater on unbuilt Route 100 to tell voters the incumbents have botched things and it's time for a change. Democratic incumbent Delegate Bill Bevan in 13-B talks on the telephone in the House chambers in Annapolis while an announcer brags about his voting record on the environment. The scene fades to the Chesapeake Bay and a beach full of Bonaparte gulls.

Republican Marty Madden, who seeks to unseat Bevan, is shown both Republican and Democratic style in his commercial. Mostly, he has his coat off as when an announcer says, "Nobody works harder, and nobody cares more." But in one scene, when he is outside talking with folks about the need for ethics legislation, he has his coat on.

Republican Guy Harriman, who is running for the Senate seat in Madden's district, appears in shirt sleeves with his children and his wife, Sandy, telling the voters in District 13 he will fight against the "horror of crime and the danger of drugs."

How will it all turn out? Tune in Nov. 6.

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