First there was the attack video. Now there's the direct-mail video -- the latest innovation in high-tech politics.
A target group of 450 uncommitted Democratic activists in New Hampshire will soon receive a video cassette from Bruce Babbitt's presidential campaign. The point, said Babbitt's New Hampshire state director Mike Muir, is to convince them that the former Arizona governor "is an effective, good communicator," while addressing their "qualms about his television capabilities."
Activists will sign up, Muir hopes, when they see how Babbitt performs on television. The candidate's television premiere in a July debate was widely criticized and his camp has acknowledged that lack of TV finesse has hurt his campaign.
In theory, watching an aspiring president on TV is less of an ordeal to voters and potential volunteers than reading campaign literature or solicitations, and is supposed to be more personal than contacts by aides and phone banks.
The Babbitt video, a compendium of his TV ads and debate performances that was mass-mailed on Monday, is part of a political trend that owes its existence to the spectacular proliferation of video-cassette recorders, or VCRs. In 1984, according to the Electronic Industries Association, VCRs could be found in about 20 percent of American households. But by 1988, the association predicts, the VCR "household penetration" will easily exceed 50 percent.
So it's no surprise that many of this year's candidates have made or are making biographical videos, including Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (D), Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), Christian broadcaster Marion G. (Pat) Robertson (R) and Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.).
Among the new and acceptable political pastimes in Iowa and New Hampshire are the video coffee klatsch, the video house party, even the video fund-raiser. This campaign's unacceptable video incident involved the preparation of a tape by aides to Dukakis that showed a speech by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and an earlier one by British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. The tape, which illustrated remarkable similarities in the speeches, was sent to news organizations and was dubbed an "attack video" by the Des Moines Register.
The more routine use of videos is for candidate introduction. "On any given day, there are hundreds of places a candidate would like to be but can't be," said political consultant David Axelrod, who is making a video for Simon. "The video affords the candidate a chance to be in all those places at once."
The Robertson campaign, meanwhile, has come up with the novel idea of selling its video, offering a "video volunteer kit" for $19.88. A spokeswoman said the campaign has sold more than 2,000 kits featuring Robertson's pre-announcement rally last year at Constitution Hall. She said that the price covers costs and that the video is not a fund-raising device.
The 18-minute Dole video will be unveiled next week, as a prelude to the candidate's Nov. 9 formal announcement, at 1,300 house parties in the primary and caucus states. It's among the more lavish, with a production cost in the neighborhood of $30,000.
Suffused with images of corn fields and hard-working Midwesterners, along with Copland-esque music suggesting agricultural verities -- "Bob Dole's America," the announcer says -- the video tells Dole's life story with emphasis on his Russell, Kan., roots.
About one-third of the video is devoted to how Dole, with the help of his home-town neighbors, overcame the crippling injuries he suffered as a combat soldier in Italy during World War II. The emotional high point shows Dole, campaigning as President Gerald R. Ford's running mate in 1976, breaking down in tears as he thanks the people of Russell at a rally. But all is not just compassion and vulnerability. The video also portrays Dole as a man of strength.
"Who's tough?" asks Sen. Steve Symms (R-Idaho), appearing in the video to endorse the star. "The answer is Bob Dole. He's got a backbone of steel."
The video makes much of Dole's friendship with his second wife, Elizabeth -- even showing footage of their wedding -- but fails to mention his 24-year marriage to his first wife, Phyllis. Their daughter Robin makes a cameo appearance but is not identified.
"It's fundamentally a political biography," said Republican ad man Mike Murphy, who made the video with his partner Alex Casetellanos, explaining the absence of Dole's first wife. "We had a problem cutting it down to 18 minutes as it was."
"There's a mention of his earlier family," said Dole's press secretary Mari Maseng, adding that Dole's first marriage was widely known. "There's no reason to dwell on it."
Maseng predicted that for voters, the video "will be the next best thing to having Bob Dole in their living room."