The End to 20th Century Politics
By RYAN NEES and BRIAN A. HOWEY
INDIANAPOLIS - The final moments of 20th Century politics ticked away on Aug. 10, 2006. On that day, Brad Ellsworth was pledging not to take a Congressional pay raise. U.S. Rep. Mike Sodrel was blogging from the U.S.-Mexican border. The RNCC was accusing Baron Hill of comparing immigrants to rodents. Gov. Mitch Daniels was putting the finishing touches on Indiana's strategic energy plan.
For on the very next day and 500 miles away, U.S. Sen. George Allen, R-Va., and a prohibitive favorite for re-election as well as a poised 2008 presidential contender, was campaigning in Breaks, Va., when he spotted a 20-year-old James Webb for Senate volunteer, S.R. Sidarth, with a video cam (pictured top, left, with Sen. Allen).
"This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca, or whatever his name is. He's with my opponent. He's following us around everywhere. And it's just great," Allen said to amused supporters.
Within hours, Sidarth's video made it onto You Tube, the quote taken as an ethnic slur (macaca is a monkey and an African racial slur). It quickly became one of the most watched videos on the internet, and within days became the fodder for the cable news outlets and networks. Webb would go on to defeat Sen. Allen by less than 1 percent, and the Senate would go Democratic 51-49, shifting the balance of power in the United States. It's one reason why TIME Magazine cited "You" and YouTube as its person of the year.
Whereas President Lyndon B. Johnson's "Daisy" ad (showing a little girl plucking petals off a daisy followed by a mushroom cloud) opened the era of the 30-second ad (playing only once on Sept. 7, 1964, during the "Movie of the Week,") Simon Rosenberg of the New Democratic Network, believes "Macaca" essentially opened the era of 21st Century politics. "I believe the great video that is going to change the election of 2008 is probably going to be generated by an average person," Rosenberg told the seventh annual L. Keith Bulen Symposium on American Politics at IUPUI on Monday. He called the "Macaca" YouTube video "a marginal event" that literally changed the balance of power in the Senate.
You ain't seen nothin' yet
And, as President Reagan would say, "You ain't seen nothin' yet." The media itself is changing in the United States. Rosenberg believes that newspapers as we know them will be gone within 10 years. It's one reason why Indianapolis Star Editor Dennis Ryerson is replacing reporters and photographers with reader-generated content. It's the reason Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi conducted one of the first true American web campaign components.
"We've left the broadcast era of political communications and we're moving to one that is much different," Rosenberg said. "Broadcast was sort of top-down from one to many. We now have a media environment that is very, very different. Let's talk about new distribution systems. When we grew up, there were three televison channels. And now, what are we facing? How many do I have in my home? TIVO is very shortly going to allow you to start recording video off the internet, meaning you will have bilions of channels on your televison, not hundreds. So the most significant thing happening is thst we're moving from a low brandwith internet to a high bandwith internet."
Rosenberg, a former soldier in Bill Clinton's Little Rock War Room, explained, "Before it was text and photos. But now we're seeing high bandwith activities. You can move onto the internet with music, television and film. We are now entering the YouTube Internet Age. You can see broadband at home is crossing into Americans with huge access. There is 50 percent broadband penetration. If it's 60 percent of households, it will be 70-75 percent of people."
And mobile media
Then there is mobile media. "The next two years, there's going to be an extraordinary explosion of mobile media - cell phones, mobile phones, internet," Rosenberg said. "Forty million people will have access by the end of 2008 to broadband video on their telephones. That's a third of the voters who are going to be able to look at real time video on You Tube. That will be a rapid response toll for a political campaign. A huge part of the internet is user-generated content that people are sharing."
And, Rosenberg predicted, "We have also arrived at an era of cheap new tools. This is very important. In 2002, there were three million blogs. More Democrats get their news from blogs than from any other source other than traditional mainstream. This is not a fringe media any more, this is a dominant media form."
He called Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, who blogs on the Daily Kos "the most influential Democratic operative in America today." As Michael Krempasky of RedStates.Org observed, "Like him or hate him, Kos has a lot of power behind him and opportunity before him. He is helping Democrats all across the country to feel engaged, and have an impact." Indiana Democrats hosted the "Taking Down Words" blog that played to the choir, while earning Jennifer Wagner the reputation of being, perhaps, the nastiest woman in Indiana politics, though the blog's impact of how many votes it attracted and candidates elected for the party are unknown.
Tivo killed the 30-second star
But the real game changer is Tivo. Several years ago at DePauw University, HPR asked Dr. James Thurber of American University about the impact of the TV synthesizer that allows users to access any TV show at any time, and filter out the commercials. As the 20th Century slipped way, Thurber was unable to gauge the impact of Tivo.
But Rosenberg said, "With Tivo, we have an enormous increase in DVRs - digital video recording - in home. Almost half of all voters will have the ability to skip all televison commercials in 2008. We all know the percentage of people who will skip all political television commercials. It's going to be 100 percent. This is the end of the 30-second spot. A minority of people watching television at any moment in 2008 will be watching live broadcast television, with the incredible penetration of cable and satellite and DVR, we are now entering a period where 30 second spots are no longer going to be the dominant form of political communication. Who's run a political campaign in that environment? It's wide open for all of us as we go forward."
As HPR reported on Nov. 16, Indiana House Democrats went mostly to direct mail in 2006, sending out more than 2 million pieces in 170 different mailings. House Republicans increased their direct mail from 700,000 in 2004 to 1.6 million in 2006.
"In a primary, direct mail is clearly a much better method than TV," Democratic Chairman Dan Parker said. "We know who's going to vote in a primary." But Parker refused to say that TV is a dead medium. "TV saved (State Rep.) Tim Harris," Parker said, adding that using local network affiliates is inefficient. "They spent a lot of money on Indianapolis TV to reach 8,000 people out of a million."
Rosenberg notes, "This year Google will sell as many ads as all of ABC. Google has already become one of the major media advertisers in all the world. The ads can be microtargeted, literally zip plus four. It's a huge differentiation. Internet advertising is really going to be transforming politics."
Which gets us to the project we offered up a month ago. Western High School junior Ryan Nees, who forged the IndianaOnMessage website that has partnered with HPR, for the first time in Indiana history, compiled most of the legislative and congressional TV and radio ads that aired in Indiana during the 2006 election cycle.
As innovative as this project was, if Rosenberg is to be believed, 2006 may be the last cyle of the 30-second ad, which CNN reported ran in the Evansville TV market five hours after the polls closed on Dec. 7. There was $2.1 billion spent on TV advertising nationally during the 2006 election cycle, a record, with Indiana congressional candidates spending more than $13.4 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Another $12 million was spent by independent groups such as MoveOn (which spent $245,000 against U.S. Rep. Chris Chocola) and political parties, where national Republicans gave the Indiana GOP $1.1 million.
Vanderbilt University Prof. John Geer, editor of The Journal of Politics, also appeared at the Bulen Symposium as a defender of attack ads. "They have increased dramatically in the last 40 years," said Geer because the "parties are polarizing" in a "highly competitive environment." He said that attack ads flourish because the "news media is a huge culprit."
"Negative ads get news media coverage," Geer said. "Journalists and pundits look for the most outrageous ad and talk about it. It's the craziest, most vicious ads that get attention." In the 2004 Bush-Kerry ads, the "swift boat ads" got far more media attention than those discussing the Iraq War.
A good example was an RNCC ad (above) run on behalf of U.S. Rep. John Hostettler that accused Speaker Nancy Pelosi of planning to install the "homosexual agenda."
Geer, however, defends attack ads, noting that 70 percent of the Declaration of Independence was an attack on King George III. Geer said that between 1960 and 2000, about 75 percent of political ads were attack ads with issues, compared to 50 percent of positive ads. Documentation was 8 to 1 more likely in a negative ad than a positive one. "Attack ads have to have a basis of truth, whereas positive ads get away with all kinds of stuff."
HPR and IndianaOnMessage provides this analysis for political ads in the 2006 election cycle.
IN-02: Ads don't have to be memorable.
Some ads took on a nearly cult-like following among activists and junkies alike, notably the DCCC's "Chocolate for Chocola," an ad depicting a series of love notes exchanged between the Congressman and oil tycoons, who came complete with cigars and cowboy hats, bearing gifts of flowers and chocolates. But by and large, the ads were forgettable. Though for Democratic media consultants (like the Fenn Group, whoich cut Donnelly's ads, and Murphy Putnam Shorr, the firm employed by the DCCC in the Second), that's not the point. Success, they argue, isn't intrinsic to the memorability of the ads. Moving public opinion is done at a subconscious level that depends not on emotion or humor (tactics often employed by corporate ad makers on Madison Street), but repetition and "persuasion".
The repetition required makes it a more expensive method, both because it's better suited to broadcast television and because the ad has to be run many more times, and makes the ad consultant's job both far easier and far less creative … but it seemed to work in IN-02. Voters couldn't pick out an individual ad that convinced them of Chris Chocola's special interest-back-slapping kind of corruption, but the impression was clearly cemented.
Republicans: Trash Joe
In any other year, Chris Chocola's series of factually devastating tax attack ads might have sunk Joe Donnelly's campaign. But their shear shrillness backfired on Chocola, and could have in fact been counterproductive to Chocola's cause, kindly reinforcing Donnelly's primary argument that Chocola was an out-of-touch negative politician, concerned less with people and more with his own power. Their nastiness turned voters off, even against Chocola. For a politician with little goodwill in the community, and whose career was due in large part to negative campaigning, the spots proved to be too nasty. Though a subjective line, Chocola undoubtedly crossed it.
Democrats: Too nice
Though much has been made (by journalists, primarily) about the nastiness of the Marion County Prosecutor's race, it should have been far nastier if Melina Kennedy hoped to win. She should have swung like a cudgel at Brizzi case after case of released murderer. It would have been easy, and the paper trail certainly voluminous enough to create the impression that Brizzi was weak on crime, that, in fact, he was personally responsible for part of the county's upswing in crime. In a high crime year, during a Democratic wave, in an increasingly Democratic county, it ps beguiling to contemplate how a well-funded candidate personally anointed by Bart Peterson managed to lose this race. The most profound, and expensive, problem was her television ads.
Instead of running thundering, grainy black-and-white ads linking Carl Brizzi to the most depraved of Indianapolis thugs, Kennedy's camp airedsophomoric ads that were weak both on production and message. When Brizzi's camp ran spots with tough-guy candidate Carl strutting down smoke-filled alleys, Kennedy responded by trying to frame the race as somehow a referendum on leadership style, not prosecutorial misjudgment and neglect, the only compelling (and abounding) reasons the voters had to oust Brizzi. Kennedy alleged that Brizzi's bad judgment allowed repeat criminals to walk out of jail and go on murderous rampages. How many of those criminals are walking Indianapolis neighborhoods now? It's a question that Kennedy never bothered to pose. Instead, she wasted one spot pointing out that the prosecutor's office employed 150 deputies who needed "direction [and] training." A radio ad -- I swear, I'm not making this up -- actually lectured voters on the fine points of asset forfeiture, a term they all "should know." It personified Kennedy's campaign perfectly.
Brizzi was the one candidate who distinctly moved from the 20th Century 30-second ads, to 21st Century internet ads. Developed by Carmel-based Media Soft, Brizzi supporters would get an e-mail with a link that read: "Click here to get a personal message from Carl Brizzi." They would then find Brizzi, with logos, talking directly to them. Or a deputy sheriff, or a three-part cartoon series. It was incredibly innovative stuff taken right out of the YouTube playbook, and available to be passed on from supporter to potential voter. "I don't know of anywhere else where there was a full web campaign," said Jennifer Hallowell, Brizzi's campaign manager and executive director of Indiana GOP. And the impact? "Hard to measure," Hallowell said. "We got some buzz off it. We heard from people who had them forwarded." Watch for more and more campaigns to go this route in 2007 and 2008.
Ellsworth ran an 'incumbent' campaign
Brad Ellsworth, congressman-elect in the 8th CD, ran a near-perfect incumbent campaign, despite the obvious: he was a challenger. Yet the lead that he started with he maintained throughout the campaign, ceding barely an inch. One of his best decisions was undoubtedly hiring Dixon-Davis Media Group, who went 9-0 nationally, winning Claire McCaskill's Missouri Senate race, two governorships, and seven other Congressional races. In the Ninth, Sodrel's media firm, Dawson McCarthy Nelson, went 4-4, and Baron Hill's, McMahon, Squier & Associates, went 3-2. Fenn Communications, which managed Donnelly's ads, won 7 of its 12 races. Chocola's firm, Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm, won exactly half of its 14 races.
Lugar's positive message
Dick Lugar's ads got a fair bit of press simply because it was universally accepted that he didn't need to run media. So it was refreshing, then, when he spent millions to spur discussion and educate voters on the profound foreign policy and energy challenges confronting the nation. But some national Republicans must be wishing that Lugar had chipped in more to the NRSC (For perspective, at the end of October, Hillary Clinton had given $1 million dollars to the DSCC. Lugar had transferred $75,000 to the NRSC.), which could scarcely afford to go on the air in the expensive Philadelphia and New York media markets that might have put Tom Kean Jr. over the top against freshman New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, a win that would have kept Lugar the chairman ofthe Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It was a bitter irony for the party that had enjoyed, even boasted about, 3-to-1 (or greater) cash advantages for years.
The Worst ad
In our view, the worst ad of the cycle was Francie Metzger's assault ad against State Rep. Teri Austin. It ran grainy footage of immigrants that accused Austin of aiding and abetting lawbreaker foreigners. It was a Republican attempt to exploit the greatest 2006 campaign fantasy: that immigration would deliver pluralities. The problem is that the issue is largely a federal one, not one where the Indiana General Assembly played a huge role. At the Congressional level, the lasting legacy of U.S. Reps. Chocola, Sodrel and Hostettler is that Latinos voted 70 percent Democratic, up about 20 percent over 2004. Not only did these Hoosier Republicans lose, they may have alienated for many election cycles to come the fastest growing demographic group in the nation. Rosenberg eexplained, "This country has become more southern and western, more suburban and exurban; the nation more spanish-speaking and immigrant. The transformation of our people is creating is a new kind of politics: 70 of the 100 largest cities are located in the South and West. In 2032, if the Census projections continue, Arizona will have as many Electoral College seats as New York; Hispanics will be 25 percent of the American electorate. Today, they represent 9 percent."
Best radio ad
U.S. Rep. Mark Souder posted a radio ad advising Tom Hayhurst supporters on how to get to Grabill. He supplied directions from both Fort Wayne and New Haven, pointing out cemeteries where his ancestors are buried and where to park when they got there. It was vintage Mark Souder, who despite a mid-October scare, cruised easily to victory against a well-financed opponent.
Simon Rosenberg explained: "Remember how the Boomers changed American culture? We've got a new generation coming along that is just as big in numerical amounts called the Millenials, 26 and younger. The way they do politics, the way they do media - they don't read newspapers, they live off these small devices. Any movement has got to focus on Millenials. General assumptions guiding American politics are going to come to an end. Both political parties and both ideological movements are at the beginning of the dawn of a new era."