Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes, in an effort to turn his major political liability into an asset in his campaign for the U.S. Senate, will begin airing a series of television advertisements Wednesday that portray his handling of the prolonged savings and loans crisis as "another accomplishment."
Hughes has come under intense criticism from depositors who had money tied up in the failed thrifts for not resolving the problem quickly and for limiting withdrawals following the crisis in the $9 billion state industry in May 1985.
Many of those depositor groups have heckled Hughes at campaign stops, and the issue has damaged the governor's popularity. But the governor has argued that through time-consuming negotiations he has managed to put much of the industry back in operation and allow depositors access to much of their money.
Hughes held a rare informal session with reporters today to show one of his 60-second commercials and to discuss the message he hopes to portray: "I look at this savings and loan thing as another accomplishment. That's what we're trying to get out, that it is another accomplishment," he said. Hughes took pains to reiterate "how hard a lot of people worked on this [resolving the crisis] . . . . I wish I could remember some of the ups and downs."
The commercials will air starting Wednesday on channels 4, 7 and 9 in the Washington area and on Channel 13 in the Baltimore area. Hughes said the 60-second spots will run for about 10 days and then a series of 30-second ads will be broadcast for at least a week. They will be on the stations about 400 times in the next few weeks, he said, at a cost of about $100,000.
Some of the commercials describe how Hughes worked to solve the problem; others feature him interviewing former thrift depositors who got their money back, he said. The depositors shown in the ads, he explained, are people who called or wrote to thank him for his efforts on their behalf.
The decision to focus exclusively on the thrift crisis in the first TV ads of Hughes' Senate campaign caps a long struggle in his circle of advisers over whether to use air time to try to neutralize the savings and loans issue, which causes many voters to take a negative view of the once-popular governor, or to focus on other issues that Hughes sees as accomplishments, such as increased funding for education. Hughes said the final decision to focus exclusively on the savings and loan issue "was pretty much unanimous."
The commercial that reporters viewed today -- one of three prepared for the upcoming week -- shows a montage of still photographs of Hughes sitting alone at his desk poring over documents and presiding over a staff meeting, as a speaker describes how Hughes "is perhaps the most successful governor in Maryland history. His good works are there for all to see," and although the thrift crisis came along, "He looked the crisis in the eye and set out to solve it."
The commercial ends with shots of Hughes taken at his April fund-raiser as he exuberently shook hands with a boisterous crowd of supporters, contributors and state employes, as a speaker calls him "Senator Harry Hughes."