The Air War

The advertisements for the two candidates running in the hotly contested Senate race in Missouri reflect the political climate.

Republican Sen. Jim Talent makes no mention of his party affiliation while Democratic state Auditor Claire McCaskill is concerned with establishing her red- state credentials. Each candidate tries to appeal to the centrist voters of the other’s party.

Talent stresses his bipartisanship and his ability to pass legislation combating methamphetamine addiction, bringing home money for roads and bridges and adding incentives to increase the use of ethanol in gasoline. McCaskill’s ad features her mother and daughter to hammer the point that she’s from Missouri: her dad worked in a mill and taught her the values of integrity and hard work.

The survey conducted by Wilson Research Strategies showed that the advertisements were equally appealing:Talent’s ad was slightly more effective than McCaskill’s ad, 42 to 38 percent. But among independents, McCaskill’s ad trumped Talent’s by 42 to 34 percent.

Nevertheless, neither ad was particularly impressive to the respondents in terms of message, effectiveness or an ad that “I would talk about.” Both ads scored lower than the average in each category. Yet they were equally appealing, earning a 5.8 on a 10-point scale. McCaskill’s ad was more memorable.

Talent led McCaskill in the survey 32 to 19 percent, but 49 percent did not know who would win—perhaps indicating just how tight the race is. Political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg wrote last week in his newsletter that of the five most vulnerable Republican seats, the Republicans are most likely to hold Talent’s seat.

The race is “still a toss-up,” he wrote, “but don’t bet against Talent.”

Talent’s ads tested very well among Capitol Hill staffers and lobbyists whereas both groups, especially senior Capitol Hill staffers, panned McCaskill’s ad.

“The D.C. community thinks this is a better ad than middle America,” said Chris Wilson, president of Wilson Research. “In an anti-incumbent year, and maybe an anti-Republican year, what you’re seeing is that the traditional ads are being eschewed by the public.”

Working with The Hill for its Air War feature, Wilson Research Strategies e-mails campaign or issue ads to survey participants who view the ads and rate their effectiveness on several criteria.