Posted: Aug. 17, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner has opened up the air campaign, spending the plentiful dollars of incumbency to become the state's first candidate in the 2004 election season to advertise on television.

Her political spots began airing on cable television in New Castle County and Kent County this week, with Sussex County advertising scheduled to follow in about two weeks on WBOC-TV16, a CBS affiliate.

While television advertising is routine elsewhere, it remains news in Delaware, where candidates more often than not are frustrated by their small-state campaign budgets in the large media markets of Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Only a limited number of candidates have the financial wherewithal to venture into the rarefied air, fewer still with the resources to do it at will.

With no U.S. Senate race on the ballot this year, the only candidates in a position to spend freely appear to be Minner, a first-term Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, a six-term Republican, if he wants to bother against a no-name Democratic candidate and minor-party opposition.

Minner intends to spend more than $1.5 million on her campaign, most of it on media, according to Gregory B. Patterson, her campaign manager, and Castle has more than $1 million in his treasury, according to his last finance report.

For now, Minner has the airwaves to herself. William Swain Lee, the likely Republican nominee, will decide before the end of the week whether his first major buy will focus on cable television or on a blend of radio and print, according to Donald C. Mell, a senior adviser.

"I fully expected her to be first. There aren't other candidates in the position to be buying TV time," Mell said. "We've always been very frugal how we went about things. This was never a conventional campaign, and it was never going to be one, and the conventional wisdom is, money wins."

Lee had about $200,000 in the bank at mid-August and expects an influx of money after the Sept. 11 primary, where he faces two minor Republican candidates, Mell said.

Whatever Lee takes in, his television spending is all but certain to be restricted to cable, Mell said. Minner expects to add Philadelphia network stations to her buy toward the end of the campaign, Patterson said.

Minner's early advertising is a 30-second spot called "Done." It was produced by Murphy Putnam Shorr & Partners, the same firm that put together the Democratic National Committee's current presidential ad showing John F. Kerry speaking at the nominating convention in Boston.

Minner's spot is designed to make the case, somewhat whimsically, that she has delivered on promises she made when she was running for governor in education, the environment and health care reform.

For example, while a narrator says Minner wanted to increase test scores for elementary school students, a camera pans through a classroom until it unexpectedly finds a smiling governor at a desk. She looks up and says, "Done!" Health care reform gets the same treatment, when someone who looks like a doctor in an operating room pulls off a surgical mask to reveal the governor declaring, "Done!"

Minner has another 30-second spot ready to rotate into her media campaign. It is called "Kids" and shows students expressing their thanks for educational improvements. It also includes a broad pitch for the women's vote as one girl says, "I like that. The governor's a 'she!'"