Day By Day

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Pennsylvania Politics -- Santorum's and Casey's Commercials

Real Clear Politics has links to Rick Santorum's and Bob Casey's campaign commercials. Check them out here.

It is interesting to compare the themes of the two campaigns. Santorum is defiant, in fact the title of the spot is "Defying the Odds." More than half the commercial recounts the times he triumphed when the pointyheaded experts predicted he would be defeated. The message: "don't count me out yet." The last part stresses protecting our kids from predators of various kinds, actions he has taken to promote job growth, and more than anything reminds viewers of all the pork he has brought home to Pennsylvania. I know that national pundits decry such things as irresponsible, but protecting children resonates with young parents and as for the pork -- well..., we Pennsylvanians, we love our pork! Every elected official in the State knows that his first and foremost responsibility is to bring as much money home to his constituents as possible. Rick knows what he's doing by emphasizing his role as porkmeister.

Casey's themes are radically different from Santorum's. He's still pretty much of an unknown outside the northeast part of the State and this is an attempt to establish a sense of his character. The piece is titled "Meet Bob Casey." He emphasizes his father, a beloved political figure, and portrays himself as a sensitive, nurturing, loving Alan Aldaesque type of man. Time and again he talks about his experience as a schoolteacher and much of the commercial consists of testimony by a young black woman who says that Casey boosted her self esteem. His message..., "I'm a nice guy and I care." There are a few references to Democrat national themes. He pledges himself to integrity and fiscal responsibility and denounces extremism and ideologues. He is also anti-globalization because it threatens jobs. But these are just mentioned in passing. His main message is a return to the welfare state policies of the past and caring, caring, caring....

RCP feels that Casey's message resonates better with voters because he is ahead in the polls. I'm not so sure. That is certainly true in Philly, which is as reactionary a political culture as you will find in this country. But Santorum's weakness has little to do with specific policies or with George Bush, or with Congressional shenanigans, and everything to do with the revolt of the Republican right wing.

Interestingly, neither commercial mentions immigration, which is supposed to be the hot, hot, hot issue of our times.

What is perhaps most striking is the fact that in Pennsylvania both sides are pretty much ignoring the national party leaders, their themes and their schemes, and are affirming their solid belief that, as Tip O'Neill famously said, "all politics is local." Certainly, in an off-year election that is usually the case. Casey has even gone so far as to fire operatives placed on his staff by the National Campaign Committee and is running, not on national themes but on a replay of the messages that carried his father to victory in those storied days of yesteryear. If Casey wins, and right not it looks probable that he will, he will owe almost nothing to the national Party leadership.

Finally, one comes away from these commercials with a sense that Casey's campaign is really pretty weak and has little of substance to offer. There is no real message except nostalgia. If he wins, it will be less a result of his own efforts than of Republican disunity.


AlexC said...

Those are actually biographies... not commercials.

Santorum's first TV ad was all about immigration. ;)

D. B. Light said...

I stand corrected, but I stand by my main point -- the two men are projecting radially different visions of who they are, and Casey's seems to me to be particularly weak and backward looking. He's trying to be the comfort candidate, projecting fuzzy images, but I don't think that's going to serve him particularly well in coming months.