No Thrills, No Frills - Bush's New Strategy

PRESIDENT Bush's team of campaign-advertising executives is trying on a new election-year theme: anti-glitz.

At least, that's what the TV viewer would notice about the serious, sober tone of Mr. Bush's latest set of campaign commercials. The two commercials, which began airing Monday, show Bush talking seriously about the economy and the need for change in America. The ads show a shirt-sleeved Bush speaking directly to the camera, at times in close-up shots.

The ads are airing in 16 "swing" states, or states closely divided between Republican and Democratic voters, like Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois.

Some political campaign advertisement specialists say the ads lack a strong visual impact. "The Bush ads are very unusual in that they are so stark," says Darrell West, a professor of political science at Brown University. "Basically his face is filling the television. There's no glitz. It's very stark."

In one of the ads, which lasts 30 seconds, Bush talks about his efforts to pass the balanced-budget amendment in a Democratic-controlled Congress, saying he will fight to get the amendment passed. In the other ad, this one lasting 60 seconds, Bush says change comes by cutting wasteful government spending and strengthening the American family.

At this stage of the race, campaign strategists are aiming to promote the president as a serious candidate who is above superficial promises or mean-spirited campaigning, say political observers. "They deliberately chose that approach because they feel 1992 is not a year to be glitzy in advertising," Mr. West says. "They don't want to come across with a packaged look."

To be sure, it is still early and the two ads are only the beginning set of Bush reelection TV advertisements, says West. In fact, the Bush campaign aired the ads earlier this time because they had to spend an extra $7 million in campaign money to be eligible for public campaign funds after the convention.

But some analysts say the Bush campaign could have used a harder-edged approach in the ads, highlighting some of the president's accomplishments over the past four years.

Also, an incumbent president pushing change may not sell so well as a theme, observers say. The change theme is "behind the curve" in this year's campaign, says Stephen Hess, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

The idea of a no-frills, low-key approach may end up being the right angle for voters. "It's definitely unique," West says. "It fits with their goal of letting their work [show for itself].... They hope it will lead to greater authenticity and greater persuasiveness."

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