The Political Advertisements

Late October in Ohio is rich in changing colors, apple cider and the smell of wood smoke. But that other hardy perennial, the political advertisement, is steadily becoming no less a part of the fall in a state that continues to be so important on the national political scene. After repeated viewings the television ads on both sides of Ohio 's issues battle start to sound pretty much the same; two recent ones illustrate the trend.

There is a little devil on the loose, according to Ohio First, and his name is Ron. That devil can be found in the details, proclaims a recent advertisement by the opponents of issues 2 through 5, and Ohio newspapers know it. Quoting the Dayton Daily News and Cleveland Plain Dealer - it's a Plain Dealer editorial that supplies the devlish tag line - the advertisement is deep-voiced with an ominous tone in the background. Pictures of out-of-state fat cats (embodied by portly, cigar-smoking white men) and bundles of cash being sent across a table are meant to evoke the special interests. All in all, a standard political advertisement meant to convince the undecideds that the four RON issues are just ploys to let outsiders (read: big unions) control the political arena.

Reform Ohio Now also mentions the special interest groups that control Ohio politics in a recent ad, but instead of a devil the main figure is a marionette. Controlled by an unseen someone the marionette soon has a bundle of money in his hand. The voiceover of the RON ad is female and less ominous, more upbeat than the Ohio First ad. After an image of hands in cuffs, the pitch raises slightly in the second half of the ad as the idea that the issues can mend the broken system is introduced. The last image is all-American: An old woman planting American flags in front of what looks to be a barn (but could also be a church or schoolhouse).

Both of the these ads should be familiar to anyone watching TV over the course of the past decade. Ohio First uses newspapers to lend an air of credibility to their claims, as if to say "don't trust us, trust the newspapers." Newspaper quotes ("voters should not be fooled"), headlines ("No on Issue 3") and the names of newspapers themselves are danced across the screen quickly. Interspersed with these supportive images are the negative ones meant to evoke what voters most fear: secrets, back door money, outsiders.

The Reform Ohio Now commercial is no less familiar though the clipped images are slightly different. The outsiders controlling politicians with money is a steady theme in the ad but there is also the image of what is clearly a man in a suit wearing handcuffs close on the heals of a picture of a boardroom. Corporation is to be seen as synonymous with corruption. The last images - flags, an American institution (school/church/barn), a grandmother, and a black-and-white snippet of a woman leaving a voting booth - all are meant to suggest the restorative powers of the issues.

In the end the difference between the two ads is simply who paid for them. The themes are almost exactly the same, the quality of production is remarkably similar and the use of familiar scare tactics doesn't differ at all. Neither side, of course, has a monopoly on the editorial support of Ohio newspapers or the flag-planting grandma demographic. So perhaps the best thing for Ohio voters to do is keep an explanation of the issues handy and the next time a political advertisement comes on, mute the TV and spend the next thirty seconds reading the pros and cons.