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Democratic hopefuls trade TV bites


As Democratic presidential hopefuls attack each other over the airwaves, Maryland is getting a taste of the negative advertising that could become a television staple in the fall.

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton is running 30-second spots that attack former Sen. Paul E. Tsongas of Massachusetts, labeling his recovery plan "trickle-down economics" and knocking his support of capital gains tax cuts and a rise in the gas tax. Mr. Tsongas is responding with an ad lamenting the use of negative tactics.

"It's really unfortunate that other candidates have decided that they have to attack Paul Tsongas," said Michael Shea, media adviser for the Tsongas campaign.

"But you have to respond. You have no alternative because as we know from four years ago, one important test for any Democratic nominee is how effectively he can respond to negative campaigning."

The flurry of ads leading up to Tuesday's primary culminates a hectic, two-week campaign in Maryland by Mr. Tsongas and Mr. Clinton, the major players on the state's media stage.

"In all these primary states, you have about 10 days to run your campaign," said Frank Greer, who runs the media effort for the Clinton campaign. "You have to get a lot of information on the screen in a short period of time."

The Clinton ads began appearing on Baltimore stations last week. They show the governor either talking directly to the camera or with groups of people, as a voice-over relates his accomplishments and economic plans.

"I think the visuals show Bill Clinton in touch with people," Mr. Greer said. "But we get a lot of flags in there, too."

Though the ads make for a busy 30 seconds, Mr. Greer said that tests show that "the viewers get it."

"Because of MTV and other advertising, people are used to quick cuts and a lot of information," he said.

Mr. Greer said that the Clinton ads were designed first to introduce the candidate and then to become more specific closer to the election.

That was the strategy launched by the Tsongas campaign a week before Mr. Clinton's TV ads began appearing here.

The first Tsongas television ad in Baltimore and Washington showed the candidate swimming the butterfly stroke, as a voice-over gave a history of his accomplishments.

"I thought that was a beautiful spot," said Robert Goodman, the Baltimore-based specialist in advertising for Republican campaigns.

"I think their intent was to allay the concerns of a number of voters about their candidate's health since he had battled cancer, but it went beyond that to become a metaphor of swimming against the tide. That one's a real winner."

The "Swim" spot gave way this past week to Tsongas ads that focused more on specific issues. But the swimmer image will return in another commercial, called "Alone," which has the candidate doing the butterfly again, with a more issue-oriented message in the voice-over.

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