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Spin Control

WA Senate race: One man pays up, speaks out

Tom Clark Murray ad

Tom Clark / Clear Channel Radio

The American Action Network’s television commercial against Patty Murray – the dirty tennis shoe ad, as it is sometimes called – ticked off more than a few Democrats and Murray supporters.

But probably none had their ire rise to the level of Deer Park’s Tom Clark.

“I’m tired of hearing the negative campaigning. It’s interfering with legitimate discussion of some very serious issues,” he said. “I want to hear what people are going to do.”

The retired engineer considers himself an independent, and said he’s probably voted for more Republicans than Democrats over the years. But he is a supporter of Murray, and is tired of outsiders – the network is a conglomeration of former congress types and business leaders, none apparently from the Northwest – telling Washington voters what to do. (Click here to see the AAN ad.)

So he countered with an ad of his own.

It didn’t have the professional polish of the AAN ad, which features an actress, or at least the bottom half of one, treading on the backs of a prostrate man, woman and child. But what it lacks in glitz, it makes up with earnestness

It’s not in the same medium. Clark went on radio to react to the TV spot, because that’s all he could afford. He called Clear Channel stations, drove down to Spokane and cut the spot in their studio from the script he wrote. No catchy tunes, no special sound effects.

He says he’s grateful for Murray’s support of veterans and her fight to keep the Pentagon from giving the air tanker contract to Airbus. “She shows class and deserves to be retained as our senator.”

The buy was about one-ten-thousandth the size of AAN, which according to media reports will spend $750,000 on its Patty whack. Clark, who’s living mainly on Social Security, spent $74, which got him two slots on Clear Channel’s liberal talk station, KPTQ, and two on its conservative talk station, KQNT.

Some may see that as just a drop in a bucket soon to overflow with commercials from the campaigns, the parties and the independent action groups. Clark prefers to see it as one person in the crowd standing up to speak.

“It’s the voter talking to other voters. Maybe that has more effect than somebody from outside coming in,” he said.

Kosta Panidis, market manager for Clear Channel’s six Spokane stations, said it was highly unusual.

“I’ve been in the business more than 30 years and I don’t recall that anyone has done this,” Panidis said. “I think it’s pretty honorable. So many of us stand on the sidelines and just complain.”

It’s rare, but not unprecedented, said Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group in Arlington, Va. A 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows voters more latitude in broadcasting independent political ads, so such actions could increase, with more people creating and paying for their own ads rather than giving money to a candidate and not knowing what’s done with it.

“We live in a society where you can make pretty good commercials on a laptop,” he said. Some already make their way to YouTube, where people are not constrained by the broadcast media’s strict time restrictions or content standards.

What Clark did was even less high-tech. In some ways, however, radio is the original social media, Tracey said. You put something on the air, and people who hear it call to talk.
The real question for that ad, like any ad, is effectiveness. Most rely on repetition to stick in the viewer or listener’s mind, and two plays on two stations isn’t what the ad men call “sticky.”

“Compared to other efforts, it’s kind of the finger in the dike. It’s like one person yelling in a stadium,” Tracey said.

Probably so. But one person in a stadium can start a wave that circles the stands over and over. If others picked up the wave, producing their ads for other candidates or campaigns, it would bring welcome variety and relief from the ad blitzes each fall. And people might pay more attention to them, because each personal ad might be so limited you might not see it again.

Clark has no plans to cut another spot, and will probably concentrate now on an even cheaper form of political advocacy: letters to the editor. But he’s happy with the response he got.

“I haven’t had anybody call me up and shout at me.”

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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