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In New Jersey Race, Campaign Turns to Dueling Videotapes

By Randy DiamondSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / May 22, 1990



MORRISTOWN,N.J.

THERE is no movie star, intense drama, comic relief, sex, or violence on the two videocassettes. Neither can you find the tapes starring Richard Zimmer or Rodney Frelinghuysen in any of the video rental stores in this mostly upper-class area of northwestern New Jersey. Instead, the tapes for the two candidates vying for the Republican nomination in the 12th Congressional District are being delivered right into Republican residents' mailboxes - compliments of the candidates.

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Welcome to the world of campaigning by dueling videos.

``People can throw away campaign literature without reading it,'' says Jay Smith, a political consultant based in Washington. ``But when they get a free videocassette in the mail, they tend to watch it. There's a novelty about it.''

Campaign by videocassette is not limited to New Jersey, though the 12th Congressional District race is the first with a tape-to-tape duel. Nearly 20 campaign organizations across the United States are sending out videotapes this year - in races for governor, US Congress, and local legislative seats, says Tom Edmonds, founder of Political Video Duplicators in Washington, the nation's first manufacturer of political videotapes.

``With high-speed dubbing, the tapes can be copied in less than two minutes,'' says Mr. Edmonds. ``I can turn out 50,000 tapes a day at a cost of no than $2 each.''

Candidates using videocassettes this year in gubernatorial campaigns include: Georgia Democratic hopeful Roy Barnes; California Democratic hopeful Dianne Feinstein; and Arizona Republican hopeful Fife Symington. Sen. James Exon (D) of Nebraska is producing a video for his campaign.

The video campaign in New Jersey was also a race with time. Kevin Davis, campaign manager for candidate Frelinghuysen, sprung into action when he learned that media consultant Jay Smith - known for making campaign videos - had been hired by opponent Zimmer. Mr. Davis quickly hired Washington media consultant Chuck Greener to rush into production a Frelinghuysen videotape that could be sent out before Zimmer's tape.

The Frelinghuysen videotape was sent to 35,000 Republican voters two weeks ago, half of the Republican voters in the area.

The tape features pictures of the candidate romping with his family and positive comments from Thomas Kean, former New Jersey governor. While Mr. Kean is not endorsing anyone in the primary, he calls Frelinghuysen a ``tremendous fiscal conservative'' who comes with a ``feeling for public service.''

When consultant Smith heard about Kean and Frelinghuysen, he decided Zimmer's video, already finished, would not work without endorsement from the former governor. So off they went to get Kean to say Zimmer kept New Jersey government ``clean'' and was a leader in environmental measures. Zimmer's tape also features pictures of the candidate romping with his family; it was sent out a week after Frelinghuysen's tape. ``The whole thing is kind of ludicrous that we both got Kean,'' Zimmer says.

The third Republican candidate in the 12th District race, former New York Giants football player Phil McConkey, has no plans to produce a tape.

Raymond Strother, Washington media strategist and consultant to Gary Hart, says he expects the number of candidates producing videocassettes to increase. But he warns of a backlash. ``People are watching the tapes because it's a definite novelty now,'' he says. ``But once people start getting a lot of these tapes in the mail it's going to become like junk mail. People are going to start throwing the tapes in the garbage.''

John Deardourff, a media consultant also based in Washington, says he favors TV ads over the videos. ``Watching television is a passive act,'' he says. ``You don't have to do anything to receive the message. With a videocassette you have to open a box and put the tape into the VCR. That's a lot to ask.''