Feaga starts airing primary campaign ads Schrader has shown commercial 2 months

August 06, 1998|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

All three of Republican county executive candidate Charles C. Feaga's new campaign commercials tell viewers he's "not your ordinary politician."

There's Charlie Feaga standing in a field, exuding authority as an announcer describes the Howard County councilman's efforts to preserve thousands of acres of rural open space.

There's Charlie Feaga the fatherly authority figure, hands on his hips as he looks on as a group of young children wearing helmets ride bicycles -- a reference to the county helmet law he championed in 1990.

And there's Charlie Feaga the thoughtful leader, again looking like a very serious man as respected local businessman Randall Nixon heaps praise on the candidate.

"He's truly an unconventional politician," Nixon says. "No one can accuse him of speaking out of both sides of his mouth. The man is all about integrity."

The ads are Feaga's conventional way of introducing himself to voters, and some political observers think it's about time.

His GOP primary opponent, first-term Councilman Dennis R. Schrader, has been the only local candidate on television for two months, burning his image into viewers' minds with one advertisement running on a few channels.

Feaga is using more of a shotgun approach. Starting this week, his ads are running three times a day on at least 10 cable channels. By the Sept. 15 primary, his ads will have run 1,365 times at a cost to the campaign of $10,767, or less than $8 per spot.

"It's good that he's on, because he's given Dennis two months on by himself," said Roger Caplan, a media consultant who has advised political candidates. "In a primary, name ID is everything."

In this primary, it will be more difficult for Schrader and Feaga to buy name recognition. Cable Media Advertising, which sells advertising on Comcast Cablevision, is selling fewer campaign slots than before, limiting candidates to three a day.

Feaga's three ads are mostly about name identification, telling viewers who Feaga is and, to a small degree, what he's done during his 12 years on the County Council.

They say nothing about what Feaga would do as county executive, and Feaga has no plans to outline a platform in commercials before the primary.

Implicitly, the three television spots seem to offer an image of Feaga, 65, as county executive: He is a father figure for the county, a trustworthy man whom voters can count on to take care of them and their children. Young children appear in two of the three ads, and the third spot -- Nixon's testimonial -- begins with an image of Feaga talking to a young couple, the mother holding a baby.

"Experienced, honest, compassionate," the ads say of Feaga.

Feaga said little about the ads in an interview last week, other than to say he doesn't think he'll air additional ads before the primary.

He also expressed concern that viewers might misunderstand his choice of Nixon, who is black, for the testimonial ad. Feaga said he asked Nixon to do the ad because he is a good friend and is well-known in the community, not because of his race.

Feaga said his campaign had been preparing a fourth advertisement on his support of education, including this year's nearly 8 percent increase in schools spending, but that has been shelved. The issue is a thorny one for Feaga because he initially advocated giving schools millions of dollars less but changed course after a contentious war of words with educators, parents and Democrats.

The advertising agency responsible for the spots said there are plans to run an education commercial but probably not before the primary. "These are the ads that are running now, and there are some plans for ads for the general [election]," said Ken Mays of Ellicott City-based Mays & Associates.

Schrader plans to put out at least one more commercial before the primary, but he continues to run the same ad that has been introducing him to voters since June.

Democratic county executive candidate James N. Robey, who has not released any commercials and is unopposed in the primary, has said he plans to air ads for 10 weeks leading up to the November election.

Pub Date: 8/06/98

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