Candidate Campaigns Via Vcr

Renshaw's Videotape Sent To 15,000 County Homes

February 27, 1992|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff writer

The 1992 congressional campaign is not yet over, and already it's onhome video.

As the March 3 primary approaches, Republican voters in the 1st Congressional District are being wooed at home via a six-minute video, the first of its kind in Maryland.

Lisa Renshaw of Severn, who wants to unseat Eastern Shore incumbent Wayne T. Gilchrest, delivered a video appeal to 15,000 Anne Arundel households last week. Media consultants and party officials say they expect other candidates to follow.

"Video mail is the hot thing of the day. You are going to see it pushed to the max," said Jay Smith, president of Smith & Harroff, an Alexandria, Va.-based media consultant that pioneered political video mail in a New Jersey gubernatorial race three years ago.

The Renshaw video, produced at a cost of $2 each, outlines the Severn resident's background and contrasts her views with Gilchrest.

"Unlike a piece of mail, few people are going to throw away a video," said Nelson Warfield, president of the Manhattan-based Forrest Communications, which produced the Renshaw video.

"And unlike TV, where you're catching everybody from the dogcatcher to the town drunk whether or not they're Republicans, you can sendthis directly to the voters who are interested in the campaign," Warfield said.

A survey by the Renshaw campaign found 92 percent of Anne Arundel Republicans have videotape machines, compared with about 60 percent of all American households.

Home videos have played an increasingly prominent role in campaigns across the country, including last week's presidential primaries in New Hampshire.

In 1988, Republican presidential hopefuls Bob Dole and Pat Robertson experimented with the idea, though their videos usually were played at campaign house parties, often as a stand-ins for the candidates. As the cost of mass-producing videos has dropped, however, campaigns have joined commercial advertisers in sending them directly to voters.

Candidates hope to get more voter attention with the videos than they can with a 30-second television commercial, said Eric Uslaner, a University of Maryland government and politics professor.

And because video mail is novel, "people . . . are compelled to stick it in the machine and watch it," Smith said.

Officials with Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton's campaign have said the release of 20,000 videos during the finalweek helped resurrect his ailing candidacy, carrying him to a second-place finish there.

But video is not for everyone. Rep. Tom McMillen, a Democrat running in the 1st District, prefers to meet voters the old-fashioned way, said spokesman Brad Fitch.

"This is not a media district," said Fitch, referring to the district that combines parts of the rural Eastern Shore, Anne Arundel County and South Baltimore. "You've got to meet as many people, shake as many hands as possible."

Still, Smith expects more politicians to capitalize on the new technology until it becomes commonplace. "Eventually, it will lose its impact," he said.

And, it is unclear to Uslaner if voters are willing to give candidates the attention a video demands.

"(Renshaw) may find that what she's done is give people a free video that they can tape over," Uslaner said.

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