Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) attacks Hollywood and talks about his "Midwest values."
Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes Jr. says Dole has "Washington values" while he, Forbes, offers "conservative values."
Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) trumpets his "principle" and "uncommon courage."
Lamar Alexander denounces "Washington mudslinging" and says he's "not another angry voice from Washington."
As Republican presidential campaign ads fill the airwaves here, the spots nominally are about budget balancing, tax cutting and welfare reforming. But the underlying theme often is some variation on values as the contenders try to forge a personal connection with the voters.
Thus, Dole says in one ad: "As a young man in a small town, my parents taught me to put faith in God, not government." Millionaire publisher Forbes derides Dole and Gramm as "Washington politicians" while positioning himself as "the only Republican who will change Washington." Gramm has a Senate colleague say that "if you believe the American family is sacred, that it's under assault by Washington . . . Phil Gramm's your man."
"Values has become a way to talk about what you really believe and who you are, not just your stance on a particular issue," said Stuart Stevens, Dole's media adviser. "It goes to the core of a person's character, and character is an essential element in this race."
The tag line to a Dole ad running on WMUR-TV here in recent days: "The character and courage to lead America." That ad was followed by two for Forbes, two for former Tennessee governor Alexander, one for Gramm and one for Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) in a single half-hour the other night.
Despite the millions of dollars being poured into these commercials, the reception in New Hampshire has been as frigid as the zero-degree weather.
"I usually shut them off," Jack Wedemeyer, 39, a businessman, said of the ads. "I change the channel," said Paula Lee, 32, a receptionist at the Rave Review hair salon. "Bickering and mudslinging gets in the way of the issues. They all say what you want to hear in the beginning."
"I don't pay too much attention to them," said Doug Trotter, 59, an engineer. "I'm going on performance and their record."
"I like Forbes's idea about the flat tax and stuff, but I don't see that passing," said Rudy Van Der Putten, 44, at the pizza parlor where he works. "Look at Clinton: How many promises did he keep?"
The early advertising reflects the candidates' central dilemma, said Darrell West, a Brown University political scientist. "The problem is most of these guys are in agreement on the issues," he said. "The differences are so small the average voter isn't going to be able to pick up on them. The candidate who will do best in these ads is the one who has compelling personal stories."
The moralistic tone of the GOP media blitz is a sharp departure from the ads that President George Bush ran here four years ago, when New Hampshire was mired in recession. "A lot of you are hurting. I've seen the pain in people's eyes. . . . I am determined to turn this state around," Bush said.
Forbes, who is spending eight to 10 times more than his rivals on advertising, has turned sharply negative, using symbols of Washington waste to slam the front-runner. One Forbes ad assails the $18 million spent on a Capitol Hill project, saying: "Bob Dole voted for a new subway to run three blocks from senators' offices to the Capitol." Another spot, running incessantly here, blames Dole for such federal boondoggles as an Idaho ski resort buried in a nine-year-old appropriations bill.
"It's particularly hard-hitting so early in the campaign," said Frank Kenison, 44, a Concord attorney. "Forbes came in with his gloves off. But I haven't seen any indication he's more than a one-issue candidate."
Robert Wilkins, 33, a medical assistant doing his clothes at a self-service laundry, was struck by a spot castigating Dole and Gramm for supporting tax increases, but could not recall that it was an ad for Forbes. "I see them early in the morning and I'm kind of foggy at that point," he said.
Rival campaign officials grumble about Forbes using his personal wealth to bypass the spending limits that bind candidates accepting federal funds. "It's interesting that Mr. Outsider is the No. 1 negative advertiser in America," said Alex Castellanos, Gramm's media adviser. "The guy who says he's not a politician sure is learning quick. He's spent 7 million bucks tearing other folks down."
Added Mike Murphy, a senior strategist for Alexander: "I think he lost a little of his virginity when he started running negative ads."
Gretchen Morgenson, Forbes's spokeswoman, dismissed such criticism. "All we're really doing is asking these people to stand on their records," she said. "We don't believe that is running a negative ad campaign. A negative campaign is ad hominem attacks."
One of Gramm's latest spots targets President Clinton, opening with a shot of the president as the narrator says: "Most politicians will do anything to get in office. In 30 years, only one man has resigned his seat in Congress on principle."
The ad refers to Gramm's 1983 decision to resign as a House Democrat and seek reelection as a Republican after siding with the Reagan administration. "That moment becomes a symbol of an entire career of a fellow who does have a north star, a candidate who is guided by principle," Castellanos said.
Gramm also plays the values card with an ad condemning "five trillion dollars of welfare." As eerie, black-and-white footage moves from graffiti-scarred neighborhoods to handcuffed criminals, the ad says: "Washington is paying millions who could work, not to work, not to marry, to have more illegitimate children."
Dole is trumpeting his recent attacks on violent films and music, "demanding Hollywood stop corrupting our children," as one ad put it. Perhaps out of necessity, given his 35-year congressional record, he also stresses his role as Senate majority leader: "While others talk, Bob Dole leads." But that may be a dubious selling point when many voters are disgusted by the squabbling surrounding the three-week government shutdown. "Dole is advertising his Washington credentials far too much," West said.
The most offbeat approach comes from Lugar, who stages a fictional drama about nuclear terrorism that has drawn mixed reviews. The Manchester Union Leader called the ad "a dud . . . so hokey as to be funny."
Another contender, Patrick J. Buchanan, is the first Republican in two decades to begin an ad with a picture of a waving Richard M. Nixon. Buchanan's commercial, unveiled here Sunday, says: "I served the two most important presidents of our time. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were not men of compromise, and neither am I."
Alexander's media campaign, depicting the candidate in his red-and-black flannel shirt, centers on his earnest appeals for "personal responsibility." The Tennessean urges voters to "expect less from Washington and more from ourselves," saying that "the answer is in our churches, families, neighborhoods and schools." In a spot that began last weekend, Alexander says: "I'm a little different from all those Washington senators. . . . I've even gone out in the real world and helped start a business."
But not one voter interviewed here could recall an Alexander ad. "Alexander hasn't made an impression on me," Kenison said. "I'm not sure what his message is, other than let's be nice to each other."