Democrat Janice Hahn’s ad strategy in California’s 36th district special election has some political strategists scratching their heads.
Not only have her spots focused on her little-known Republican opponent, but in a Democratic-leaning district the Democrat doesn’t mention her party affiliation at all.
But that’s by design, her advisers say, as Hahn has been reaching out to voters in all parts of the diverse 36th district in an effort to win next week’s special election.
Turnout is expected to be very low in the midsummer contest, with no other races on the ballot. There has been no credible polling released publicly, but Hahn’s ads have signaled to some observers that the contest is more competitive than it should be. Neither national party is spending significant money on the race, another sign that it is viewed as Hahn’s to lose.
Hahn’s campaign said its strategy includes attracting some Republicans and “decline to state” voters in the Beach Cities and Torrance.
“We’ve not been running away from the fact that she’s a Democrat, but we haven’t made it a central point because people are really looking for folks who are not going to Washington to sort of be a lock-step partisan but to solve problems,” Hahn adviser John Shallman said.
The campaign has aired at least four TV ads since the May 17 open primary, when Republican Craig Huey surprisingly finished second and advanced to next week’s runoff with Hahn. With Joe Trippi as Hahn’s media consultant, all of her ads prominently mention Huey while none have mentioned the word “Democrat.”
The most recent ad slammed Huey as a direct-mail scammer. It followed a couple of ads that painted Huey as more conservative than GOP lightning rods Sarah Palin and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.).
Candidates don’t often want to give an opponent that much free name identification, but Los Angeles-based Democratic communications strategist Roy Behr said here it is probably wise.
“Their opponent has a lot of resources to get his name out. His signs are everywhere in the district,” Behr said. “In this case, it’s more important to attach negative information to his name than to worry about name ID itself.”
Shallman said there are five cable systems within the district and the campaign has run all ads on each of them.
While they’re not broadcasting that Hahn is a Democrat, they are reaching out to Democrats through direct mail.
“It’s a smart strategy,” said Steve Barkan, a Democratic strategist who worked for Hahn’s top Democratic opponent, Debra Bowen. “In a special, it’s a lot less Democratic, just based on turnout. I think it’s smart. You run to the broadest audience on TV and then you target your mail.”
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