East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden and his top challenger, Metro Councilman Mike Walker, have employed the typical advertising strategies of an incumbent and challenger in a political race, experts said this week.
Holden, who has been in office for eight years, has had “to paint a picture that he’s positive,” said Southern University Political Science professor Albert Samuels.
“He wants to paint a picture of Baton Rouge as a place that young people want to be a part of.”
Political analyst Bob Mann, director of LSU’s Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs, said an incumbent can often afford to focus on his or her accomplishments instead of on attacking a challenger.
“The re-election is going to be a referendum on him or her so it’s inherently a defensive kind of race,” Mann said, adding that he has not followed the mayor’s race closely. Incumbents must make sure to define their own record before their opponent does, Mann said.
“You have to be out there making the case for why you deserve another term,” he said.
That’s exactly what Holden’s campaign has tried to do, said Rannah Gray, a Holden campaign adviser.
“The media campaign is an extension of the mayor’s overall campaign and that is to talk about his accomplishments and where we are going in the future and how we get there,” she said.
Holden’s five television ads have not mentioned any of his three opponents by name, although Holden in one ad that appears to be clearly directed at Walker refers to “politicians who prefer to run on attacks rather than achievement.” Holden’s ads have mostly featured voter testimonials and shots of Holden speaking to small groups of people.
“That’s a classic strategy of an incumbent who feels good about his position,” Samuels said.
“If he felt less secure about the outcome, I think he would be going after Walker.”
For a challenger, the objective is very different, LSU’s Mann said.
“A challenger has to go after the incumbent,” he said. “He’s asking people to fire this person, to vote him out of office.”
Mann said a challenger must convince people the incumbent is doing a terrible job, make people aware of who the challenger is and make them want to vote for the challenger.
Challengers also must walk a fine line when attacking the incumbent’s record, Mann said.
Going after an incumbent could tell voters “that you have nothing positive to say about yourself, that you are just an attack dog,” he said.
Roy Fletcher, who produced Walker’s TV ads, said they were designed to draw a distinction between Walker and Holden.
“We have one plan, he has another,” Fletcher said.
“I am asking you to get rid of a mayor and I’ve got to give them a reason,” he said, comparing it to a boss who has to fire someone. “It’s not a pleasurable thing to do.”
The most controversial of Walker’s ads is the “Limoing Louie” spot, in which a voice-over criticized Holden for using police officers to ferry and guard Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan when he traveled from New Orleans to a speaking engagement at Southern University.
Holden decried the ad as deceptive and angrily called a press conference at which a parade of speakers denounced the ad for attempting to divide Baton Rouge.
Fletcher denied the ad was negative.
“That Farrakhan ad fell into my lap,” he said. “If he has a problem with it, call Louis Farrakhan.”
Fletcher acknowledged the Walker campaign had an uphill struggle to win the advertising war.
“We had a lot less money,” he said. “They (Holden’s campaign) got out there early.”
According to campaign finance filed earlier this week, Holden has raised nearly twice what Walker has raised since the first of the year.
Of Walker’s other two television ads, one disputes a Holden claim that Baton Rouge does not face a “crime emergency” and the other advocates repealing the CATS tax. Walker has made addressing the city-parish’s crime problems the centerpiece of his mayoral campaign.
Neither of the other two candidates — businessman Gordon Mese or attorney Steve Myers — have purchased any television ads. Both are no-party candidates.
Terre Haute Ind.-based Republican Super PAC has run an ad saying both President Barack Obama and Holden “have failed.”
State Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere the chairman of the Republican Super PAC, Villere confirmed.
The ad was produced at the behest of a donor to the organization, Villere said.
“A donor can earmark a donation for a particular race,” Villere said. “We had a request to get involved.”
Villere would not say who the request came from, but said it didn’t come from the campaign of Walker, the sole Republican running for mayor-president.
Villere said the ad intended to portray Obama and Holden as ideologically similar — which can be a sound strategy in Republican-leaning Louisiana, Samuels said.
“They are using Obama as a foil because he is clearly unpopular in Louisiana,” Samuels said.
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