Incumbents Learn About Challengers' Advantage

THE yearning for change is so strong among American voters that it pulls 20 to 30 percentage points from the support of any incumbent running for Congress, reports Monitor staff writer Marshall Ingwerson.

Those numbers come from Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R) of Michigan, who cites new private polls taken for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which he chairs. The drag of incumbency is not so heavy for President Bush, he adds, because people are more familiar with his personal record than they are with House of Representatives members.

Traditionally, incumbents had a starting-line advantage with voters. Now, voters say they prefer a generic new person over an incumbent, 55 percent to 35 percent. The desire for change is "blind, irrational, unreasoning, vicious," Mr. Vander Jagt says.

He should know. He was defeated in a primary race this year. The newspaper vote

Newspapers don't vote. But every four years, a lot of them do endorse presidential candidates. This year, many publications are breaking from a traditional pattern of endorsing the Republican ticket.

The Oregonian in Portland, Ore., for example, endorsed the Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in 142 years. The newspaper said President Bush has been "a massive disappointment as president," while Gov. Bill Clinton had been "pragmatic, tough, focused, controversial - and effective" as governor of Arkansas. Other Clinton endorsements have come from the Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, New York Newsday, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Alaska's Anchorage Daily News.

Bush has gotten his share of endorsements - though fewer than he got four years ago. The Chicago Tribune, Denver's Rocky Mountain News, the Daily Oklahoman of Oklahoma City, the Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville, and the New Haven (Conn.) Register all backed the president. Said the Tribune: "Fortunately George Bush has shown he can handle the job. He has not been a perfect president but he has been a very good one." Don't touch that dial

Pity the poor couch potatoes. They're hoping to see "Murphy Brown" or "Beverly Hills 90210" or "Days of Our Lives." Instead they are confronted with a relentless barrage of advertisements touting Clinton or Bush or Ross Perot.

The presidential rivals are waging what shapes up as the costliest political advertising blitz in the history of the airwaves, spending more than $40 million on network television this fall. From professional football games to prime-time sitcoms, presidential ads are everywhere and will be until election eve, when the rivals are expected to air 20- to 30-minute final appeals at a rate of almost $1 million an hour. Beyond that, Bush and Clinton are pouring millions more into radio ads and local TV spots i n key battleground states.

Spending on network ads this year has easily outpaced four years ago. At this time in 1988, for example, ABC had taken in a total of $5.9 million from Bush and Democrat Michael Dukakis in post-convention ad money, compared with $19 million so far this year from candidates Bush, Clinton, and Perot. Move over, Madison Avenue

Not all TV ads are as slick as the presidential candidates'.

Gloria O'Dell, an underfinanced Democratic challenger to Sen. Bob Dole (R) of Kansas, spent $5,000 to air a television advertisement in four Kansas cities. Unlike the Madison Avenue commercials viewers are used to seeing, Ms. O'Dell's ad cost about $500 to produce. It was shot with a hand-held video camera. The advertisement, with its grainy look and poor sound quality, could be the wave of the future.

"People are used to home video-camera images. That makes Gloria more real to them, not as smooth and expensive and distant as a typical campaign commercial," says Lynn Hinkle, president of the Topeka, Kan., public-relations agency that produced the spot.

And if all else fails, O'Dell can compete for the cash prize on "America's Funniest Home Videos."

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