Robert Goodman believes in music. He believes he can sometimes capture the soul of a political candidate, the spirit of his dreams, and the essence of his beliefs in song. In the political media biz, Goodman is known as the Republicans' jingle man.
"I think an election is a dramatic event," says Goodman, whose Baltimore firm last year did television campaign ads for nine senatorial candidates and a handful of House and gubernatorial hopefuls. A couple of his clients scored upsets, and he's a heavyweight in his industry by virtue of his list of customers: Sens. John Tower, Al Simpson, Nancy Kassebaum, Larry Pressler, Rudy Boschwitz and Pete Domenici all used his services to snare Senate seats last time around. "Being a dramatic event, music and words and visuals are all part of the action. I think I'm talking about a business called feelings."
Voting, Goodman says, is an emotional act -- "if we're wrong on that, then we've sent a lot of candidates to the graveyard." And touching those emotions in such a way that a voter feels attracted to a particular candidate is a campaign media person's job.
Now, in early 1979, Goodman is beginning to pitch candidates for next year. Today any shrewd politician begins planning media long before any primaries.
Goodman, 50, made his reputation when he provided the media for Spiro Agnew's 1966 gubernatorial race against George Mahoney in Maryland. That success was followed by wins for Linwood Holton in Virginia, Louie Nunn in Kentucky and Arch Moore in West Virginia.
That last race included what those in the trade call a "classic Goodman" ad. Moore's opponent in 1972 was Jay Rockefeller, who worked hard to shake his outsider's image.
Called the "New York spot," Goodman asked a series of New Yorkers this question: "Excuse me, what do you think of a West Virginian running for governor of New York?" A quick series of close-ups showed people laughing at the suggestion as they dismissed the notion. Then came the obvious last question: What do you think of a New Yorker running for governor of West Virginia? Ridiculous, snorted a New Yorker. It worked.
"Negative ads are normally counter- productive," says Goodman. "I don't think you should invade someone's living room with hostility and vulgarity. We've developed a reputation for some zingers with a little humanity and humor."
Other "zingers" from Goodman's shop include his "horse sense" spot he once used for a judge's race and, most recently, for Nancy Kassebaum.
Goodman puts an actor behind a horse with a shovel in Rock Creek Park. The actor begins talking about the opposition candidate, suggesting if he thinks he's going to cut spending (or whatever), then he ought to have the actor's job. The camera backs away to reveal that the actor is shoveling horse manure; as he pitches a shovelful at the camera, the frame is frozen.
Not all of Goodman's ads are heavy-handed. For Alaskan Rep. Don Young, whom Goodman felt had to be more strongly identified with his home state than with Washington, Goodman wrote a jingle with these lyrics as the camera followed the candidate striding through Alaskan wilderness:
Don Young, Alaskan like you, Fighting for you to be free.
Don Young, we're askin' of you, Stand by our side in D.C .
Washington suffers much abuse beyond the Potomac. Robert Griffin, who lost his bid to return to the Senate from Michigan, said in a Goodman spot: "You know, you're shaping up that Washington crowd..." Texan John Tower talked about "showing those folks in Washington." In those two statements, at least, both men sounded as if they'd never set foot in the Capitol.
The Tower-Robert Krueger race, one of the toughest in the country last November, featured a Tower ad that took its cue from the "New York spot" as it focused on Krueger's absentee record. An announcer's voice asked, "How'd you like to have a job where you show up just 25 percent of the time and still get paid over $50,000 a year?"
"Are you kidding?" answered a man-in-the-street.
"That sounds like a con game," said another.
Then copy on the screen read: "Only one man in Texas had that job. Robert Krueger showed up 25 percent of the time but collected 100 percent of his salary."
"There's no such thing as trends in terms of media campaigns," says Goodman of the possibility of a significant turn toward negative spots. "Each campaign and candidate is unique."
After Goodman graduated with a degree in philosophy from Haverfore College, he tried his hand writing a musical in New York. In the '50s he returned to his hometown of Baltimore to work for Joseph Katz, the Baltimore ad man who handled Adlai Stevenson's 1952 bid for the White House.
But Goodman was drawn more toward commercial work, and he eventually began his own company. Not until 1966, when he was impressed with Agnew, did he turn his attention to political clients. Today that's about half his business, and his early love for music is reflected in his political ads; he writes all the music and lyrics, as well as slogans such as the one that ran with ads for Al Simpson of Wyoming: "The Al Simpson Senate campaign, one neighbor at a time..." For Malcolm Wallop the slogan was: "He will serve America best by serving Wyoming first."
"Goodman thinks any election can be won with a jingle and a slogan," says a filmmaker who dislikes his style.
"Every campaign has a spirit," answers Goodman. "Earlier my predilection with music may have interfered with the message, but I think it's appropriate in the dramatic medium that is TV. I don't think it's phony; some people see the world, some people hear it."