|A Candidate Whose Ads Are Never Off the Air |
By ADAM NAGOURNEY
New York Times
August 8, 2012
HONOLULU — Channel 110 is a choice spot on Hawaii’s digital cable dial, coming right after Fox News and right before CNN Headline News. These days, it is the home of LL12, a station that will soon devote every minute of every day to one topic: Linda Lingle, a Republican running for the United States Senate.
Just in case there are not enough political advertisements on existing television stations here — and most people say there most certainly are, given the Senate campaign, two Congressional races, and a lively race for Honolulu mayor — Ms. Lingle has created her own cable station. It provides viewers with a feast of Lingle speeches, Lingle advertisements and Lingle endorsements, as well as video issue papers, televised forums and testimonials delivered in 10 of the languages spoken on these islands.
Think Linglevision. It began modestly in June and is about to roll out as a full-blown operation, pumping all-Lingle-all-the-time into 245,000 living rooms after Saturday, when her Democratic opponent will be chosen in a primary. Ms. Lingle says that if she wins the general election, she intends to hold on to the station as a way to communicate with constituents.
“Most people never come to hear a speech through the entire campaign,” Ms. Lingle said, seated in a hotel lobby in Waikiki before speaking at a fund-raiser. “I thought this would be more convenient for citizens, for voters. Rather than them having to come to us, we would go to them.”
By every indication, LL12 (as in Linda Lingle 2012) is a first-of-its-kind venture in campaign advertising in this country, reflecting the continued push by candidates to break through the rising clatter of political advertising. It is also taking advantage of the fact that one cable company, Oceanic Time Warner Cable, covers about 95 percent of the market here, making the project a little easier to pull off.
But the effort is also evidence of the extent to which Republicans are prepared to pour money into even what Ms. Lingle described as an uphill fight to be elected to the Senate. The Democratic primary is between Representative Mazie K. Hirono and Ed Case, a former member of Congress. The Hawaii Poll, taken for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now in July, showed that both Democrats enjoyed double-digit leads over Ms. Lingle among likely voters.
“She has a ton of money, and I’m not sure she knows what to do with it,” Mr. Case said. “I think she calculates she has to spend some of it now. There’s no reason to keep it in reserve.”
It is not easy to judge the effectiveness of LL12, at least at this early stage. Campaign officials said it drew 70,000 viewers in July, with each watching for an average of three and a half minutes. That is the equivalent of seven 30-second commercials, said Lenny Klompus, a deputy campaign manager.
Were those viewers channel surfers who happened to land on LL12? Committed Republicans already in Ms. Lingle’s camp? Or just, as Stephen Colbert suggested in a segment making fun of LL12, insomniacs and people in traction? “Well, that’s a good question,” Ms. Lingle said.
But it certainly has people talking.
“It’s Linda Lingle 24-7,” Ms. Hirono said. “I think I saw a couple of seconds of it when I was trying to change the channels. It’s not a station I would watch.”
“While this is funny, what’s not funny is the amount of money the Republican Party is going to spend to try to win this seat so they can get closer to the four seats they need to control the U.S. Senate,” she said.
It is hard to blame Ms. Lingle for trying something new. “You have this perfect-storm election year for Hawaii,” said John Hart, the chairman of the communications department at Hawaii Pacific University. “You have a mayoral race that is highly contested. You have both House seats open. You have a Senate seat open when you only have an open Senate seat in Hawaii once in a generation. And you have a Hawaiian-born president at the top of the ballot.”
“They are rolling the dice,” he said.
If Ms. Lingle’s race is tough, her candidacy is far from implausible. She is a former two-term governor, has a history of winning elections in this state and is an effective campaigner. Mr. Case and Ms. Hirono have spent much of the summer focusing on each other. And Ms. Lingle defeated Ms. Hirono in a race for governor in 2002.
The race is attractive to the Republican Party and to outside groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which tends to support Republican candidates, because a Lingle victory would embarrass Mr. Obama in his own backyard and make it that much easier for Republicans to capture the Senate. Ms. Lingle has already raised $4.4 million for her race, compared with Ms. Hirono’s $3.4 million and Mr. Case’s $781,000.
Hawaii is resolutely Democratic, and Mr. Obama was born here. Ms. Lingle faces the burden of running in a year when her party — and its presumptive presidential nominee, Mitt Romney — has turned increasingly conservative and critical of Mr. Obama.
“He’s certainly to the right of my philosophy,” Ms. Lingle said of Mr. Romney. “I think the language I use is a much more balanced language than the national Republicans might use.
“It certainly is hard to be a Republican in Hawaii and run for office,” she said.
Hence Linglevision, which could prove particularly well suited to a place like Hawaii. Most of the population is concentrated in the Honolulu area, and the residents of the outlying islands are unlikely to get many opportunities to see Ms. Lingle or any of her opponents.
And truth be told, it is not particularly expensive. Robert Lee, Ms. Lingle’s campaign manager, said the campaign was spending $2,500 a week for the channel.
“They had a blank, and we took it,” he said. “And the blank station happened to be between Fox News and CNN Headline News.”
Neal Milner, a retired political science professor with the University of Hawaii, said he was skeptical that LL12 would win new supporters for Ms. Lingle.
“Most people who are likely to watch it are people who have already decided to vote for her,” he said.
“But she’s got the money,” he said. “It doesn’t cost all that much. And like a lot of things in a campaign, if you’re not sure how effective it is, you just go ahead and do it.”