You know that we are deep into the campaign season, and we are getting hit from every side with slogans, ads, claims and counter-claims from presidential candidates as well as from our own candidates for governor of Utah.
Some of it is trivial and much of it is negative. Each candidate accuses the other of "negative campaigning," which, defined, is to talk about the opposition candidate's weaknesses or mistakes instead of stressing the positive qualities of your own candidate.Wilson and Bangerter have already engaged in some of that, and in a very serious way. It is difficult to tell whether the voters take it seriously. That is why Merrill Cook's ads caught my eye.
Cook's ads are very prominent right now on radio and on billboards. They are certainly as negative as any the other candidates run, but there is a certain whimsical quality about them that is rarely seen in campaigns.
I asked Camille Cook, wife of the candidate and the brains behind the ads, why they decided to take a whimsical route. She said that they thought it would be noticed because it is different, and they also wanted to show Merrill Cook as a down-to-earth person with a sense of humor. They did not want him to be seen as staid and formal.
The most prominent ad simulates a boxing match between Bangerter and Wilson, Wilson depicted with a "light voice" and Bangerter a "blustery voice." The bell begins the fight and there are punching sounds.
Norm says, "OK, Ted, this is for tripling Salt Lake's property taxes when you were mayor!" He punches Ted, who says "Oof!"
Ted says, "Norm, this is for hitting us with the biggest tax hike in Utah's history." He punches Norm, who says "Oof."
Norm says, "Ted, your Select Telephone scandal cost the taxpayers $3.5 million." He punches Ted.
Ted says, "$3.5 million! That's just what your Timp Mental health scandal cost Utah taxpayers!" He punches Norm.
Norm says, "Well, Ted. Here's for your so-called beautification plan that left half of downtown Salt Lake like a ghost town!" He punches Ted.
Ted says, "OK, Norm, take this for your economic plan that caused 30,000 people to leave Utah since you became governor! Last one out, turn off the pumps!" There is another punch.
Norm says, "Why did you resign, Ted?"
Ted says, "Why don't you resign, Norm?"
The referee says, "Oh, no! They're both knocked out!"
Finally, someone from the audience says, "Get Cook in the ring!"
This is highly negative advertising done in a light style, without substantiation of any of the charges made, and without effort to prove that Cook would be any better. Camille Cook says they just took statements that the major candidates actually made to each other or about each other.
In another whimsical ad currently on radio, a voice claims that Wilson and Bangerter are against the tax limitation initiatives, and that if those measures pass, they will "cut kindergarten, reduce teachers' pay, eliminate handicapped and aging services, put a freeze on all state road construction, and, listen to this, allow mosquitoes to grow to be the size of RACOONS!" There is a scream after that one.
Then the voice claims that Cook will make the tax initiatives work. Not only that, he will "keep kindergarten, pay teachers properly, build better highways, help the needy, and, oh, yes - KILL the mosquitoes."
Finally, another ad suggests that voting for a candidate "just because he is a Republican" or "just because he is a Democrat" makes the voter like sheep. "Go ahead, admit it. Wilson and Bangerter may be nice guys, but you really can't afford 'em."
I've enjoyed the ads, because a little whimsy in politics is always welcome. An independent candidate, whose chances to be elected in Utah are almost nil, obviously needs to be noticed.
The danger to Cook is that many voters will listen to the ads and get a chuckle out of them, but will be inclined to take him less seriously than the other candidates.
Or, as is often the case with a clever commercial for a product, people may listen and laugh and then won't remember what was being sold.