Campaign Advertising

Advertising is a way for a candidate to control the image they put out into the public. The goal is to create captivating advertisements aimed at either dismantling the citizens confidence in the opposing party, or reinforcing your parties appeal with the public. Heitkamp’s television advertisements are personable and embody her inherent charisma even when talking about local or national issues such as energy and healthcare. The North Dakota GOP executive director, Anthony Reedy, even noted that her television advertisements were superior to Bergs (Burns). Mark Putnam created her advertisements, crafting them to emphasize her extensive record in law enforcement and to highlight her stance on issues that are important to North Dakotans. Heitkamp’s campaign produced more advertisements than Berg’s did. Further, the messages that Heitkamp choose to accentuate were fairly positive and focused primarily on the issues that were important to her constituency. Her negative comments about Berg were either defensive or strategic. In comparison Berg produced mostly negative television advertisements. Since Heitkamp’s victory most of these advertisements have been removed from the internet but evidence remains that Berg attempted to besmirch her image by changing her stances on important issues and linking her to the president and her party. Only a selection of positive campaign advertisements exist for Rick Berg and many were not created by his own campaign but rather were created by interest groups.

Gender is a nuanced issue in the campaign. Heitkamp is a woman running for a seat in the senate and thus has to overcome some gendered stereotypes. Compromise is often considered to be a feminine quality and Heitkamp has chosen to make it a prominent part of her platform in her campaign. To counterbalance this feminine ideal Heitkamp utilized masculine imagery in her advertisements. She has created a nice equilibrium of feminine and masculine imagery. Often women have to overcome damaging stereotypes about their competence while men are generally thought of as tough,and natural leaders. Heitkamp succeeds in appearing tough or strong in her advertisements by playing up her experience as attorney general while selecting masculine backdrops for her advertisements. In “Batting Cage” Heitkamp hits every ball that is thrown at her. The choice of baseball is ingenious as its is something distinctly american as well as masculine. By hitting every ball people associate her with competence and an ability to get the job done.

Heitkamp made sure to mention a combination of oil, energy, and jobs in the majority of her campaign advertisements. In 2006 North Dakota was the ninth largest oil producer and in 2012 it was the second largest. The Bakken shale oil found in North Dakota added an entirely new dimension to the election issues. In order to succeed in this Republican state Heitkamp knew she had to get on the right side of the energy debate. Siding with Palin and touting the “drill, baby, drill” mantra Heitkamp took a surprising stance on American oil independence that defied traditional party lines. It is extremely unusual for a Democrat to come out as pro-Keystone. This demonstrates her bipartisan approach to politics, and her dedication to putting the people first before the party. In an interview with the Great Plains Examiner Heitkamp stated, “I believe we should, in fact, be approving the Keystone Pipeline…That is a great private-sector jobs program. And it’s important that we have access to that oil long term.” Energy was an important issue in the election and remains an important issue to North Dakotans. In this campaign advertisement Heitkamp emphasizes her experience as the director of the Dakota Gasification Synfuels Plant. Such a position proves that she is pro-energy like the people of North Dakota.

Heitkamp presses her platform of balance and bipartisanship in this advertisement called “field.”  She distances herself from party lines and from President Obama by stating that the needs of North Dakotans come first and that she is only beholden to her constituents. She also appeals to the working constituents by targeting the big industries in North Dakota including farming and oil production. She specifically ties in her stance on these issues by stating she opposes cap and trade and will protect farmers from over regulation. These are two essential points that appeal to the mentality of most North Dakotans. The image of Heitkamp in the cornfields tactfully emphasizes the point that she is pro-farming.

Laundry is arguably one of Heitkamps most personable advertisements. When her family talks of her ability to compromise they are playing into her platform of balance and bipartisanship. the role of compromise in politics is crucial and she is highlighting that she will do what is necessary to serve her state and nation. Compromise can be seen as an issue that categorically seperates Berg and Heitkamp. In an interview with the Great Plains examiner Heitkamp said that, “campaigns are about contrast. I think where I have a record of working across party lines and being very open to new ideas, I think basically Rick Berg has proven himself to be a very partisan individual and an individual who cares maybe a little more about self-interest and special interests than he does about the people. And I think that’s going to be the biggest contrast” (Greatplainsexaminer.com 2012). Her ability to compromise also strategically separates her from the Democratic party as she is less aligned with partisan ideals. She is positioning herself as a candidate that can “work across the aisle” and decide what is best for North Dakotans or the nation despite her parties interests while making Berg appear trapped and tethered to the GOP.

This advertisement portrays Berg in a negative light. It highlights the fact that Berg is in an economic echelon that prevents him from truly understanding the needs of North Dakotans and then implies that this disparity is reflected in his political ideals. Further Heitkamp is taking a relatively bipartisan issue like education and making it divisive by implying that Berg is less concerned with the future education of North Dakotans then he is with increasing his wealth. This advertisement is a clever attack against Berg. By allowing an average North Dakotan to be the focal point of the advertisement the message becomes more authentic. This ‘family man’ who is looking out for the interests of his sons resonates with the average voter while highlighting a potential weakness in Berg’s image. When Heitkamp comes in to approve the message she makes sure to clarify that she does not plan to give tax breaks to the wealthy. This move should make her more appealing as a candidate to a larger proportion of people as the median household income is $49,415 which is less than the median national household income.

Rick Berg created this advertisement and utilized the clout and prestige of current US Senator John Hoeven to gain the trust and the respect of North Dakotans. Hoeven is making the case for Berg that he has the potential to be a great senator due to his experience with serving the state. Hoeven says that if Berg is given the opportunity he will improve the economy, create jobs and balance the budget. The message in “together” is relatively conventional but the backing by Hoeven is what stands out. Those who trust Hoeven and voted for him may consider Berg over Heitkamp based upon his recommendation and support. Berg is not making a case for himself in this advertisement, rather Hoeven is. This is a reoccurring theme in his campaign, where he features others in his advertisements rather than himself. While this strategy can be effective in moderation it does not work when used all the time. This is one of his more compelling advertisements simply because of the reputation of Hoeven.

Berg did not specifically create this advertisement but it was funded by the American Future Fund which donated $182,900 to his campaign (opensecrets.com). The creator is clearly biased in favor of Berg and the commentary attempts to undermine Heitkamps platform. For every negative point about the Democratic candidate there is a positive one about the Republican candidate. The American Future Fund also attempts to link Heitkamp with Obama, something she has tried to avoid in her campaign. Thus the advertisement undermines her credibility especially with the strong Republican base.

The majority of Bergs advertisements have been removed from the internet yet there is still commentary online about one of his most shocking advertisement called “again.” There was an overwhelmingly negative backlash to the advertisement. It highlights four elderly women talking in a diner while criticizing Heidi Heitkamp for her support for the Affordable Care Act as well as her support of President Obama (Celock). The comments on the post are partly from people who routinely comment positively on democratic advertisements but others are from average citizens without a clear party bias based on their other comments. This suggests that “again” alienated Berg from the public, as the people did not appreciate the tactics or strategy used in the advertisement.

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