Damned Spot

Koch Shot 

“I Love New York” and “Trust Me” were produced for the Hillary Clinton campaign by “Team Hillary,” a combined effort of Mandy Grunwald, Devito/Verdi, and Mark Penn. Click for transcripts of the ads.

From: Jacob Weisberg

To: William Saletan

Right after the negative ads we discussed earlier this week, Hillary Clinton put up this pair of spots featuring Ed Koch as her urban assault vehicle. They strike me as faintly hilarious in the vein of an exhibition they had at the Jewish Museum a few years ago called “Too Jewish?” I imagine Hillary’s team in the studio cutting this ad and asking each other that question. And the inevitable answer: Not for the Upper West Side!

Hillary 1 - Hate Crime The ads really do sound like authentic Koch. Koch personalizes everything. He says he likes Rick Lazio, but he’s not voting for him, basically because he’s not liberal enough. Coming from a man who supported Alfonse D’Amato for re-election in 1998, this is a curious standard, but as I said, everything’s personal to Koch. In the first ad, the former mayor zings Lazio for not sharing three opinions: Medicaid should cover abortion, handguns should have to be registered and licensed, Pat Buchanan is the devil. In other words, this is an ad pitched at the customers at Zabar’s. The second spot substitutes the patients’ bill of rights for Pat Buchanan. This one may be targeted at a region extending slightly beyond the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Koch is being a bit unfair on at least a couple of these issues. Lazio opposes partial-birth abortions, which calls his pro-choice absolutism into question. But Koch doesn’t mention that. Instead he says Lazio is “not really pro-choice because he won’t support funding abortion for poor women, which I support and Hillary supports.” It seems to me that someone who thinks abortion should be legal but that taxpayers who think it’s murder shouldn’t have to pay for it can legitimately call himself pro-choice. Lazio has a pretty good record on gun control, despite the fact that he doesn’t support Hillary Clinton’s proposal for gun licensing. And claiming that Hillary “had the guts to say no to Pat Buchanan” because she declined to be considered for the nomination of a party that didn’t want her anyhow is a bit of a reach. It didn’t take any guts for Hillary to say no to Pat Buchanan. She would have to be nuts to say anything else.

Both ads end with the weird sign-off, “Trust me—I love New York.” Most Americans would probably say that someone who loves New York is decidedly not to be trusted. Koch’s ads provide a modicum of support for that prejudice.

From: William Saletan

To: Jacob Weisberg

These ads pretty much confirm the strategic layout we discussed a couple of days ago: In this race, the Democrats have the issues, and the Republicans have the candidate. First Clinton pounded Lazio on two issues where he strayed from the liberal line. Then Lazio tried to neutralize the issue differences (saying that he, just like Clinton, was for a patients’ bill of rights and against hate crimes) and steered the debate toward Clinton’s negativism and her lack of New York roots.

Hillary 2 - HMO The Koch ads smack the ball back into Lazio’s court. By appearing in the ads, speaking Zabarese, and reminding viewers how much he loves New York as well as Clinton, Koch tries to neutralize the carpetbagging issue Lazio raised. Instead, Koch steers the viewer’s attention back to issues—gun control, abortion, health care, and Pat Buchanan—on which most New Yorkers lean toward Clinton’s positions and away from Lazio’s.

As with the ads we reviewed Tuesday, the Clinton campaign seems to have cut and pasted its latest message directly from its polls to its TV spots. A lot of New Yorkers like Lazio personally but agree more with Clinton’s position on the issues. That’s exactly the message Koch delivers: “I like Rick Lazio, but I am not voting for him. He’s wrong on too many issues.” If Lazio loses the race, that message—and the Clinton campaign’s elegant simplicity in delivering it—will be the reason.