Ehrlich airing Democrat-aimed testimonial ads

Sun Staff

Although they might look more MTV than GOP, the somewhat hip television commercials launched yesterday represent a new strategy to sell the gubernatorial candidacy of Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

The ads, produced by the Washington-based firm Stevens and Schriefer, are aesthetically spare and their message is conveyed in testimonial style. Each of the three 30-second spots shows a person against a white background discussing his or her support for Ehrlich in terms designed to appeal to traditionally Democratic voters.

A pulsing Muzak-style tune plays softly in the background.

Two of the ads, being aired in the Baltimore and Washington markets, are aimed squarely at black voters. One features Michael S. Steele, Ehrlich's running mate, who tells viewers, "African-Americans need to look at the record. We don't Balkanize Maryland. We don't separate and divide it. Everyone will have a seat at our table."

In his spot, Baltimore civil rights lawyer A. Dwight Pettit says, "The message that I'm getting from Bob Ehrlich is that we are going to address the problems of the African-American community now."

In hers, Nancy Snyder, a Severna Park physical education teacher, says, "Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has certainly been in office for almost eight years. She has only placed an emphasis on education in relationship to the upcoming election."

Snyder (who says she is a Democrat in the ad, but said in an interview she voted Republican for governor in 1994 and 1998) said the spot was not scripted -- she just spoke.

"We were looking for something different," said Ehrlich spokesman Paul E. Schurick. "Everybody's ads look alike; they sound alike. And given that these ads are conveying that Bob is in fact a different kind of Republican, we felt this format was the most appropriate."

Towson University political rhetoric professor Richard E. Vatz said because the candidates appear to be fighting over a few percentage points, such ads "will be very consequential" to the outcome, though endorsements "typically don't matter" at this stage in a tight race.

"But if Bob Ehrlich can convince people that he's not crazy right [wing], then I think he can win this thing," he said.

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