BOISE - Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s first campaign commercial for his re-election bid contains a misleading claim, while that of his Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, includes an overstatement.
But both TV spots, unveiled as Labor Day marks the start of the thick of the campaign season in Idaho, begin to delineate the candidates, from the incumbent who strongly defends his state budget cuts as a victory in shrinking government to the challenger who draws himself as an Idaho everyman who’s not beholden to “special interests.”
Oddly missing from both ads: Any party affiliation. Otter, with photos of the state Capitol and waving flags along with a scene of him with ordinary Idahoans, focuses on his incumbency. Allred’s ad, with hunting, riding and family photos, notes that he’s “not a politician.”
“Both want to reach out to independent voters,” said Jim Weatherby, political scientist emeritus at Boise State University. “We know, at least by historic polling data, that roughly a third of Idahoans are independents.”
Both candidates began airing their ads Monday night across southern Idaho, as Idahoans were glued to their TV sets to watch the Boise State Broncos’ dramatic win over Virginia Tech in the college football season opener. Both campaigns plan to launch the same ads in North Idaho and on Spokane stations within the next two weeks.
Here’s a look at the claims made in the ads:
Otter’s ad begins with a voice-over saying, “Butch Otter understands that hard times mean everyone cuts back, even state government.” He then expounds on that theme, while walking near a family loading kids into a mini-van, saying, “You, your friends and neighbors had to tighten your belts, and while not everyone was happy with the cuts we made, I made sure that the state government tightened theirs.”
Debbie Field, Otter’s campaign manager, said, “We’ve seen families saying those exact same things.”
Weatherby noted, however, that the ad marks a change in theme for Otter, who for the past year has expressed regret about having to make big cuts, including historic cuts to the state’s public school funding, due to the state’s recession-crimped tax revenues. “Now he’s trumpeting it,” he said.
In the ad, Otter continues, saying, “Today, Idaho leads the nation in reducing the size of government and we’re not in debt.” As he speaks, the screen displays, “Idaho leads the nation in slashing government waste - Rockefeller Institute of Government.”
However, the institute made no such finding. Robert Ward, deputy director, said he assumed the ad was referring to the institute’s July report that showed Idaho with the largest percentage drop in state employees from 2009 to 2010, as measured by the April-to-June quarter.
“People have differing opinions as to whether state government jobs involve a lot of waste or not,” Ward said. “We don’t express opinions on that point.”
Said Weatherby, “It’s kind of a mixed and somewhat garbled message.”
The ad then concludes with Otter saying, “Now despite the worst recession that we’ve seen in 70 years, Idaho is moving in the right direction, and I’ll keep it that way.” The narrator concludes, “Butch Otter, our future, our governor.”
Field said she’ll check on the reference to the Rockefeller study. “I think there are lots of indications that Idaho is leading the nation in these sorts of things,” she said.
Allred’s ad opens with a narrator saying, “A 5th-generation Idahoan. At 16 the lone hand on his grandpa’s cattle ranch. A family, man, a sportsman, a concerned citizen - not a politician. Keith Allred.”
Some have questioned Allred’s 5th-generation claim because it’s by adoption, rather than by birth; Allred’s mother, who was from Utah, was divorced from his biological father when Allred was 18 months old, and married Bob Allred, a 4th-generation Idahoan, when Keith was six years old.
The ad continues with Allred saying, “I’m Keith Allred. I founded a nonpartisan citizens group. We cut property taxes for Idaho homeowners and stopped Butch Otter’s gas tax and registration fee hikes.”
Weatherby said of the “we cut property taxes” claim, “It definitely is overstatement, but what politician doesn’t overstate?”
Allred and his citizen group, The Common Interest, played a key role in the legislation to raise the homeowner’s exemption and tie future increases to the Idaho housing index, but clearly they didn’t cut the taxes themselves - that was done through passage of legislation.
Shea Andersen, Allred’s campaign spokesman, said, “Keith is justifiably proud of his role in helping to lower property taxes for Idahoans. … Keith is very proud of his work with the Legislature in helping make this become a reality.”
The ad continues with Allred saying, “I’ll be a governor of, by and for the people, not of, by and for special interests.”
Weatherby said the ad introduces Allred and includes a mix of positive and negative messages, from portraying Allred as an average Idahoan - not mentioning he’s been a professor at Harvard - to suggesting his opponent is a politician who serves special interests.
“People don’t like negative ads, but sometimes they convey important information to people about the candidates, or at least introduce more areas for debate and discussion,” Weatherby said.
Otter, a Republican, is seeking a second four-year term; also in the race are independents Jana Kemp and “Pro-Life” and Libertarian Ted Dunlap.
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