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Casting himself as a Washington outsider, Republican Senate candidate Michael S. Steele launched his first television ad yesterday, promising to be a "different kind of senator."

On the other side of the political divide, Democratic Senate candidate Josh Rales also claimed the outsider mantel with a new ad released yesterday. "I'm not a politician," he declares. " I'm running because I thought it was time someone took a stand."

Even Rep. Ben Cardin, who can hardly claim outsider status after 20 years in congress, makes a point in his ad that began airing Monday that he has "stood up" tot President Bush, as well as oil companies and insurance companies.

Steele, who leads the field of 10 Republicans in the Sept. 12 primary, purchased $600,000 in airtime for his first ad in the four television markets that reach viewers in the state.

Most of the ad is visually spare, with the camera isolated on the lieutenant governor talking casually about how he is not part of the Washington crowd.

"I know what you're thinking. I know what you're feeling. Washington has no clue what's going on in your life," he says. "Instead of the spin, I'll talk straight about what's wrong in both parties."

As with the bulk of Steele's campaign material, the spot never mentions that he is a Republican.

Maryland Democrats said they were astonished by Steele's claim to outsider status, given that he served at the state's GOP chairman, worked on President Bush's campaigns, and spoke at the Republican National Convention.

"He's never made any bones about that," said Doug Heye, Steele's spokesman. "He's always says he'll talk straight about what's wrong in both parties. He feels Washington has failed Maryland. And Washington is a bipartisan problem."

Today, two Democrats who are challenging state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer in the primary, will also launch television ads.

Schaefer is using radio spots, but no television yets. His challengers Peter Franchot and Janet S. Owens are both putting up ads today.

Both will circulate in the Washington market.

"I think probably every campaign is trying to strategize where to go for votes," said Robert DiPietro, Owens's campaign spokesman. "There's going to be a lot of clutter because so many of these races have so many candidates."

Tom Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, said the reason so many ads are going up on television now is a matter of strategy. The candidates didn't want to waste money on television time while most people were away on summer vacations. But they need to go up with sufficient time to allow potential voters to see their ads at least a few times.

"This is really the exact right time to be going on the air to make sure people see the ads at least two or three times, so the message has a chance to penetrate," Schaller said.

Matthew Mosk

By Phyllis Jordan  |  August 23, 2006; 6:00 AM ET
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