Campaign ads are about to deluge us | Bill Cotterell – Tallahassee Democrat

The First Amendment won’t allow it but it would be nice if political candidates had to attach little disclaimers at the end of their campaign advertisements. 
The pharmaceuticals companies run those staccato spiels to protect themselves from liability lawsuits, like, “Taking this stuff may cause drowsiness, blurred vision, irritability, headache and a sudden compulsion to rotate your tires.” Often, the list of side effects makes you want to just live with whatever the pills are supposed to cure.
To encourage a free-wheeling public discussion in political campaigns, the courts have given candidates and their parties wide latitude in trying to get our attention and, maybe, our votes. A would-be governor, senator or mayor can say things — or leave things out — on TV and in internet advertising that the government would never allow for a car maker or supermarket. So, a lot of the claims and accusations made in political pitches are opinion, various shadings of the truth. And some are just lies.
Like everything else in life, it used to be simpler. When big businesses warned that Gov. Reubin Askew’s corporate income tax 50 years ago would be passed along to consumers, Askew made a simple, direct and factual rebuttal. He went on TV with two shirts bought at Sears in Tallahassee and Thomasville for the same price. The company had paid millions in corporate profits taxes to Georgia, Askew said, but none to Florida.
That’s a persuasive technique rural legislators used to call “putting the hay down where the herd can get at it.” No need for abstract arguments, charts and graphs or lofty promises, you just give viewers a real-life example.
Askew’s constitutional amendment passed easily, although the modern Republican regime has steadily chipped away at the corporate tax.
Gov. Ron DeSantis now has an effective spot featuring a series of everyday Floridians giving happy testimonials to his policies. You saved our jobs, says a waitress. You improved our pay, says a schoolteacher. You supported first responders, says a firefighter. And in a shoutout to the culture wars, there’s a swimmer thanking DeSantis for protecting her ability to compete — an un-subtle reference his opposition to transgender athletes in women’s sports.
The spot concludes with a DeSantis family portrait at the front door of the Governor’s Mansion. It’s a really good, upbeat ad.
Charlie Crist and the Democratic Party are left to give the rebuttal, which never quite catches up to a catchy message. They can point out, correctly, that much of what DeSantis boasts about was made possible by federal funding — Biden Administration programs that DeSantis and almost every Republican in Congress ridicule and promise to repeal if the GOP takes control next year.
Sometimes the sought-after imagery in a TV spot or internet ad can backfire. In Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race, Dr. Mehmet Oz drew nationwide derision when he tried to look like a regular guy in a grocery store, fretting about inflation since Biden took office. But the Republican nominee mispronounced the name of the popular supermarket chain — reinforcing the idea that he really lives in New Jersey — and said his wife wanted to make crudités. 
The typical Pennsylvania steelworker or miner would call that a veggie platter.
You couldn’t watch TV for a half-hour, or scroll through Facebook very long, without seeing political pitches from legislative, congressional, and statewide candidates in the recent Florida primaries. The pace will pick up in the next six weeks or so. It’s good that a lot of the ads will end with a candidate saying, “I approved this message.”
It would be better if they said, “Wealthy donors, mainly business interests, gave a lot of money to the party or candidate in this advertisement, which is intended to make you support the person and ideas involved. All or parts of the message may or may not be true.”
Bill Cotterell is a retired Tallahassee Democrat capitol reporter who writes a twice-weekly column. He can be reached at
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