Politically Savvy Friends

Thursday, October 11, 2007

DeSantis Campaign Ads Previewed

Dear Politically Savvy Friends,

If you missed my story last night on KDKA-TV, feel free to click http://kdka.com/video/?id=32817@kdka.dayport.com to see a sneak preview of Mark DeSantis' campaign ads. DeSantis allowed me to watch and listen to several of his campaign ads, as long as I didn't air the entire ads in advance of their publication. That was fair, since in a 90-second TV story I couldn't post the entire ad anyway.

Judge for yourself, but my take is that his approach for an initial kick-off ad makes some sense, although I think all of this may be too little, too late. DeSantis has decided to take head on the fundamental question of whether a Republican has a chance of getting elected in the city of Pittsburgh where something like 147,000 Democrats outnumber 29,000 Republicans and 25,000 Independents. The theme of these first radio and TV ads, simply put, is that DeSantis does have a chance and that if the "no chance crowd" had won we would not have had Renaissance I and II and great city fathers like David L. Lawrence and Richard S. Caliguiri.

Getting people to believe that a vote for DeSantis is not a total waste of a vote is a critical first step. The voting public likes to vote for winners, and right now Luke Ravenstahl, despite all the miscues, looks like the November 6 winner. One series of ads won't turn that around, but it's a start.

The next step for DeSantis is to convince Democrats that he is worthy of their vote. His campaign mailing to Democrats this week suggests that sometimes the candidate who best reflects Democratic values "isn't always a Democrat." It's a clever approach, but it requires Democrats to buy into the notion that Ravenstahl is really an ultra-conservative, anti-gay, anti-choice, pro-war clone of George W. Bush. I don't think it will sell, except to the most liberal of Democrats who already object to Luke on other grounds.

None of the DeSantis ads that I previewed over at Kolbrener, the ad agency that is making its first real foray into political campaigns, directly attack Luke Ravenstahl. That defies conventional wisdom, which would suggest some hard-hitting attack ads are needed to shake Democrats from their comfort level with Luke. Maybe they have something in the works, but for the moment it's all positive about Mark.

If DeSantis had money for a 10-week ad campaign, introducing the candidate in a positive way before going after the incumbent is always the best approach. But this campaign is down to just 3+ weeks. The few TV and radio ads I saw, while creative and well done, may not be enough to turn things around for DeSantis in such a short period of time. Still, I give the Republican a lot of credit for trying. It's good to see a race for mayor in November 2007 when most people in town think the real race is 18 months away in the Democratic primary of May 2009.

And that's exactly what the Ravenstahl team thinks, too, which helps explain why they do not (yet) plan to run radio and TV ads this fall, although look for plenty of lawn signs and some direct mail. The Ravenstahl theory is sound. If you're going to win anyways and don't really care whether the margin is 60% or 70%, why not save your million bucks for the battle that really counts. Any Democrat looking to take on Ravenstahl will have to think real hard if the incumbent has that kind of money in his warchest before the campaign even begins.

Bottom line. DeSantis' campaign ads have the potential to make this race more visible among rank-and-file Pittsburgh voters -- all 50,000 or 60,000 that will bother to vote -- but it may all be prelude to political battles ahead.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Apology Issued to Luke from ICMA

Dear Politically Savvy Friends,

Ho-hum. Believe it or not, we have an election four weeks from today. Yes, a few lawn signs have started to sprout around the region, but the radio and television airwaves have been surprisingly quiet. That won't last for long. I understand the DeSantis for Mayor campaign will launch its radio commercials later this week with television ads soon to follow, probably early next week.

Last night, I watched the Post Gazette editorial board's mayoral debate between Luke Ravenstahl and Mark DeSantis (along with a Libertarian and Socialist Worker). The format did not lend itself to a back-and-forth between the two major candidates, but both did manage to get a lick in on each other. Truthfully, I was not overwhelmed by either -- and that, ultimately, turns out to be a plus for Ravenstahl. DeSantis needs a stronger performance if he's to have any chance in upsetting the incumbent. (Of course, who watches these debates but us junkies).

On an unrelated note, Luke deserved -- and got -- an apology from the International City/County Management Association for, inaccurately, confirming that the mayor had snubbed 4,000 city and county managers gathered in Pittsburgh this week for their national convention. Early this year, the ICMA invited Luke to give brief remarks at their opening session on Sunday (same time as the Steelers game). When Luke didn't show, Marty Griffin of KDKA Radio heard from a city source that the mayor was a no-show, pissing off a lot of folks at the convention.

On Monday, Michele Frisby from the ICMA confirmed Marty's source (through me) and he reported it on his morning show on Tuesday. Later that morning, Ravenstahl called in to dispute the charge and pointed to an email his office sent on September 7 declining the invitation. Turns out the mayor is right. Here's the text of the apology sent directly to the mayor's office: "I am writing to acknowledge that at no time did Pittsburgh Mayor Ravenstahl formally agree to provide greetings during the conference opening general session of ICMA, the International City/County Management Association. The information I provided Jon Delano earlier this week was incorrect, and I apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused the mayor’s office." Michele called me personally and apologized to me. In reality, the apology is owed the mayor, and I am pleased the ICMA apologized to him.

In the scheme of things, this is hardly an important issue. The mayor should be free to choose what events he wants to attend or not. He told Marty that he was not at the Steelers game but spending some quiet time with his wife. I'm all for that, too!

The larger issues of Pittsburgh -- its financial health, its lack of jobs, its crime and vandalism, its management, and its future -- these are the legitimate items to debate, not whether the mayor attends a particular conference. So let the real debate begin. Pittsburgh deserves it.