DES MOINES, FEB. 7 -- The apocalypse is at hand.
"It's the Last Days of the campaign," said Don Ringe, media consultant to Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.). On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, Dole and the 10 other candidates competing here are fighting a final, frenzied war of television commercials for the hearts and minds of the voters.
Taken together, the candidates are spending record amounts of money. " 'Jeopardy' is sold out," said Ron Briggs, sales manager of Des Moines' top-rated KCCI-TV. " 'Wheel of Fortune' is sold out."
The Republicans and Democrats spinning the presidential wheel of fortune -- everyone except Alexander M. Haig Jr. (R) and Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) who are not competing in Iowa -- are sharpening their messages, and, in some cases, introducing new ones before time runs out.
In the latter category are two back-of-the-pack Democrats here, Jesse L. Jackson and former Colorado senator Gary Hart, who reentered the race in December after dropping out last May.
Jackson, spending $30,000 on his first-ever broadcast television spots, is airing an endorsement by comedian Bill Cosby and a testimonial from a debt-ridden farmer.
Hart, spending $90,000 in the final crunch, bought five-minute blocks of time on television stations across the state, and a variety of 60-second blocks -- including time during last Thursday's episode of "Knots Landing." "When powerful people and politics of the media tell you you have to quit, true character is saying, 'Hell, no,' " Hart asserts.
Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) has capitalized on the Des Moines Register's endorsement -- excerpted in his commercial over the strains of Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man." Democratic front-runner Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), who earlier conjured up the "$48,000 Hyundai" and the slogan, "It's your fight, too," is reinforcing those messages in an upbeat closing ad.
The 60-second spot, titled "Soul," brings his campaign to an emotional climax with dream-like visuals of Gephardt on the stump, as he narrates in a voice enhanced with echo.
Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (D) has been torn between presenting himself as a skillful chief executive who brought about an economic "miracle," and as a man who is passionate about the plight of the homeless and ending strife in Central America.
After weeks of "passion" commercials, Dukakis has done an about-face and returned to "skill." In one spot, featuring the vibrant Boston skyline at night, an announcer warns of a brewing economic recession and praises Dukakis as the only presidential candidate who "took on debt, deficits and massive unemployment and helped create the hottest economy in America."
Meanwhile, former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt (D) tries to contrast his "honesty" in talking about raising taxes with the "promises" of his rivals. "Besides," he concludes. "I don't think those other guys are fooling you anyway."
On the Republican side, Dole's final spots promote a freeze on federal spending to combat the deficit ("Public Enemy No. 1," Dole says). Vice President Bush's commercials ("Ready, on Day 1, to be a great president") show him chiding Congress for opposition to the line-item veto and promising to emphasize education. And while former television evangelist Pat Robertson is arguing for prayer in public schools and taking a swipe at the economic proposals of Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), Kemp is trying to sell his vision of deficit reduction without tax hikes.
And after weeks of absence from the airwaves, former Delaware governor Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV, running next to last in the Des Moines Register poll of Republicans published today, has returned with old commercials touting such proposals as cutting farm subsidies, ideas that have yet to take hold in Iowa.