Archive for Monday, August 26, 2002

Sebelius adopts textbook campaign tactics for Nov. 5

August 26, 2002


— By late July, Democrat Kathleen Sebelius had raised about $1.8 million for her campaign for governor.

During the past month, she's been spending a good chunk of it on four television ads touting her record as insurance commissioner but not mentioning her party affiliation.

She's following a traditional campaign strategy of attempting to solidify a positive image with voters before GOP nominee Tim Shallenburger and fellow Republicans begin raising questions about her record and politics.

She's also attempting to rise above partisan labels, something she must do to woo moderate Republican voters and win the Nov. 5 general election in a state where Republicans far outnumber Democrats.

"She is clearly trying to establish an identity in the minds of prospective voters in a positive sense, associated with experience and success," said James Sheffield, chairman of Wichita State University's Political Science Department. "This is classic Political Campaign 101."

Sebelius began airing her ads statewide the week before the Aug. 6 primary. All four portray her as a successful administrator who cleaned up the Insurance Department and made it more efficient while protecting consumers.

One, called "Gloves," depicts Sebelius entering the commissioner's office in January 1995 with supporters to clean it up. She snaps on a pair of rubber gloves and says, "Let's get to work."

"It's really important that people are reminded of her record as insurance commissioner," said Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran-Basso. "It's important to get this information out there."

The toughest of the four ads may be "Hope," which chastises Republicans, saying they had a negative primary campaign and citing newspaper articles about GOP candidates' squabbles over advertising.

A narrator says, "It was disappointing, so let's hope it ends here."

Shallenburger, the state treasurer, won 41 percent of the vote in a tough Republican primary against Senate President Dave Kerr, Hutchinson, and Wichita Mayor Bob Knight.

Shallenburger spokesman Bob Murray acknowledged last week that the GOP nominee's fund raising for the general election campaign would have to "start from scratch."

But being the GOP nominee reduces or eliminates Sebelius' head start in raising money, if conservative Shallenburger can keep enough moderate Republicans behind him.

Last week, in Cowley County, two Winfield Democrats, Sen. Greta Goodwin and Teresa Krusor, the state Democratic Party's secretary, announced the start of a nonpartisan group to cater to crossover voters.

But such efforts often need public support from a Republican to make a significant difference.

Attention on Shallenburger

In addition, the primary contest made Shallenburger far more visible in recent months than Sebelius.

"She will not go unchallenged," Murray said. "In a Republican state, Democrats tend to run as close to Republican ideas as they can get."

Republicans clearly hope to paint Sebelius as a liberal. During one primary campaign news conference, Kerr briefly compared Sebelius to New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In a fund-raising letter dated the day after the primary, Shallenburger's campaign said Sebelius was a liberal who "needs to sound like a Republican" to win.

"Well, she is a wolf in sheep's clothing, because if she wins, she will raise your taxes and burden your life with unnecessary government, just like Democrats do once elected," the letter said.

Sebelius stands by record

Sebelius has, of course, touted her record in decreasing the Insurance Department's budget and, when asked whether she would increase taxes, promised to initiate a top-to-bottom review of government to find savings. She also has said the state needed to be business friendly.

Her television ads are designed to inoculate her against attacks like the one in Shallenburger's fund-raising letter.

"If you've got a candidate who's got a fairly positive record in an abstract sense, then what you're doing is building a platform that's hard to tear down," Sheffield said.

And Joe Aistrup, chairman of Kansas State University's Political Science Department, said Sebelius had picked a good time to run her commercials, when Shallenburger is raising money to get on the air again.

"She can run the ads and build up her name recognition pretty much without a response," he said.

Murray doubted the effectiveness of early advertising, saying most voters weren't paying attention. Sheffield acknowledged voters often have short memories and "more than a month ago is a previous century."

Ultimately, Sebelius won't know how effective her strategy is Election Day. But she's taken it straight out of the textbook for candidates.

"It's a classic campaign strategy," Aistrup said.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.