Townsend launches campaign ads on TV

Introductory spot first of the race for governor

Election 2002

July 12, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend rolled out the first television advertisement of the gubernatorial campaign yesterday, airing a 60-second get-to-know-me spot that begins with her famous family and ends with some grand claims about her achievements.

The ad, which will run statewide until the end of the month, is meant to introduce Townsend to voters in her own words, aides said. But a spokesman for her Republican rival, Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said Townsend was forced to take to the air because her message isn't gaining traction on the ground.

A poll released Tuesday suggested Townsend's popularity might be slipping, and some prominent African-American politicians have accused her of taking black voters for granted -- while Ehrlich actively courts their support.

Complicating matters, Townsend's campaign said yesterday that she might not take part in a candidate forum next week at the Baltimore NAACP chapter, which Ehrlich plans to attend.

But Townsend campaign spokesman Michael Morrill said the timing of the ad had been planned for weeks and had nothing to do with the poll, which he said was flawed.

Townsend wanted to bypass the news media and speak to the people herself, he said. "She thinks it's important for voters to hear her directly," he said.

The first shot shows a close-up of Townsend talking to an invisible interviewer. "I grew up in a family that always taught the importance of public service," she says. "But I never believed I would go into politics. It wasn't really until the women's movement that I could see that I could run for office myself."

As she speaks, the image changes to two black-and-white photographs. One shows her about age 12, in a long line of small children holding hands with their parents, Robert F. and Ethel Kennedy. A second photo shows her in profile, with her father hugging her.

The ad then gives a quick run-down of her resume, showing pictures of her at work and with her husband and daughters and their golden retriever. A narrator says, "She's been asked to take on more responsibility than any lieutenant governor in Maryland's history, while raising four daughters with her husband of 28 years, David Townsend."

A quick succession of images with text links Townsend to some impressive statistics. One shot shows her talking to Anne Arundel County sheriff's deputies as her voice says, "When I was at the Department of Justice, I helped to put 100,000 police officers on our streets."

Townsend was a U.S. deputy assistant attorney general from 1993 to 1994. Her job included helping to implement former President Bill Clinton's initiative to beef up the nation's police ranks by 100,000 officers, a fraction of whom landed in Maryland.

Since Townsend was sworn in as lieutenant governor in 1995, "we have the lowest crime rate in a generation," she says, accompanied by text that says the violent crime in Maryland decreased by 20 percent -- a statistic confirmed by numbers from the state police.

In addition, she says, "we have created over 300,000 jobs." According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the state Department of Business and Economic Development, the number of jobs in Maryland grew by 324,000 in the past seven years.

"And for the first time in three decades, we cut the personal income tax," Townsend says. The phased-in, 10 percent tax cut was signed into law by Gov. Parris N. Glendening in 1997. The spot does not point out that Glendening tried unsuccessfully this year to delay the final installment of the cut.

The ad closes with a series of images that match the planks of her campaign platform: prescription drug help for the elderly; expanded health care for children; economic development incentives, and "new roads that protect the environment" -- referring to Townsend's support for the proposed Intercounty Connector, an east-west highway in Montgomery County, which Glendening has blocked.

Her ad strategy, said David Heller, a Washington-based Democratic media specialist, is a good one. "It is critically important for people to have a sense of who somebody is at their core," he said. Once voters feel they know Townsend, Ehrlich's attacks will have a harder time sticking, he said.

Townsend aides confirmed yesterday that she has not accepted an invitation to take part in a candidate forum next week at the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Ehrlich is promoting his intention to participate.

Morrill said Townsend has a conflict, having agreed to appear the same night as the featured guest at a fund-raiser for Prince George's state Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah. He said the campaign accepted that invitation three months ago, before it had heard of the NAACP forum.

"You honor the commitments you've made," Morrill said.

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