Thicke on tv and other news from the secretary of agriculture race

Despite the salmonella outbreak and egg recall that made national news two months ago, Iowa’s secretary of agriculture race has been overshadowed this fall by campaigns for other offices and the unprecedented drive to remove three Iowa Supreme Court justices. In fact, Democrat Francis Thicke’s campaign has attracted more interest from nationally-known sustainable food advocates than from many Iowa news organizations. Peter Rothberg wrote in The Nation, “there may not be a more important contest this year for farmers and food activists nationwide.”

Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has been running television commercials for several weeks, but Thicke starts running his own campaign ad in the Des Moines market today. His campaign has an opportunity to increase the ad buy, and due to an unusual situation I’ll cover below, any additional air time Thicke reserves will reduce Northey’s television exposure during the final days of the campaign.

Commercials for Northey and Thicke are after the jump.

Bleeding Heartland covered Northey’s first two television ads here. Since mid-October, he has been running two new commercials. This one is called “Jobs”:

My transcript:

Northey speaks to camera: As your secretary of agriculture, my priorities have been opening markets for farmers and creating jobs for Iowans. [words near bottom of screen: “Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey Opening Markets Creating Jobs for Iowans”]

Male voice-over: Bill Northey. Not a politician, but a family farmer focused on expanding alternative energy and creating value-added jobs for Iowa. [scenes of Northey talking with different people, driving farm equipment, words near bottom of screen: “Bill Northey Alternative Energy Value Added Jobs”]

Northey: I’m Bill Northey. I’d be honored to have your support. [Northey speaks to camera, “Bill Northey” on screen]

Male voice-over: Bill Northey. Carrying the tradition of family farmers serving Iowa. [scenes of Northey with people of different ages, including small child]

Female voice-over: Making a difference for today, making a difference for tomorrow. Bill Northey for secretary of agriculture. [more scenes of Northey with people, his name stays on screen; at end of ad his campaign logo appears along with “Paid for by Northey for Iowa Agriculture”]

It looks like a solid ad to me. Viewers see and hear Northey’s name several times in connection with uncontroversial ideas. No one’s against alternative energy or more jobs. Thicke has better ideas about promoting alternative energy while boosting farm income, but it’s probably smarter for Northey to ignore that rather than engage in a policy debate. The other Northey ad currently in rotation is called “Strong”:

There is no voice-over in the ad, but here’s my description of the visuals:

Scene of country road with fields of corn on each side. Movie-style music plays in background. Words on screen: “He visits Every Iowa County Every Year”

Photo of Northey standing on farm equipment. “Bill Northey” on screen.

Gorgeous Iowa sunset with farm buildings in silhouette. Words on screen: “He’s no politician. 4th generation Iowa family farmer.”

Boy looking at about a dozen wind turbines in a farm field; light bulb superimposed on picture. Words on screen: “In the face of massive deficits Bill Northey cut his own pay.”

Photo of Northey against plain black backdrop. Words on screen: “Our Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey”

The wordless soundtrack presents a nice contrast to all the political commercials with their scary-sounding voice-overs (“Flowerpots in Des Moines. Trolleys in Des Moines!”, “voted to spend thousands on heated sidewalks while teachers were getting laid off!”) Iowa has never run “massive deficits,” but Northey did reduce his own pay after revenue shortfalls prompted Governor Culver to cut the budget across the board in October 2009.

Here’s the Thicke campaign ad, a 60-second spot called “Francis Thicke vs Big Ag”.

For about the first 20 seconds, suspenseful music plays in the background as Thicke does farm chores. The words “Francis Thicke Dairy Farmer” appear on screen. The viewer sees him tying his boots, patting cows hooked up to milking machines, loading a truck with a “Buy Fresh Buy Local” label and waving as it drives off his farm. Thicke begins loading hay onto a trailer.

Five men and one woman dressed in black business suits approach. They put down their briefcases in unison. At about the 30-second mark, the first businessman speaks.

First man in suit: Excuse us, Mr. Thicke. We’ve been hearing some interesting things coming from your farm. Do you really plan to help grow local economies?

Thicke continues loading hay but answers, “Yep.”

Second man in suit: Do you really want to take control away from us and give it to–people?

Thicke (still loading hay): I do.

Third man in suit: Are you serious about breaking up monopolies and restoring competitive markets?

Thicke: I am.

Woman in suit: Mr. Thicke, we can’t support that.

Fourth man in suit: For that matter, who does?

Camera pulls back to reveal crowd of ordinary people on farm, standing behind the people in suits, with huge “Francis Thicke Secretary of Agriculture” sign. The crowd shouts, “We do!”

People in suits turn around, looking surprised and concerned. Thicke walks in front of the crowd, smiles, and says, “I’m Francis Thicke, and I approve this message.”

I don’t know of any other Iowa candidate running a 60-second ad now, but the length allows a narrative to develop. The absurd scene of corporate tools arriving on Thicke’s farm is more eye-catching than a standard ad with an announcer saying, “He wants to help grow local economies, he is serious about breaking up monopolies” and so on. Instead of having a voice-over say Thicke will stand up to corporate interests, we see that play out in a humorous way.

Another unusual feature of this commercial is that it was produced entirely by volunteers, according to the Thicke campaign. I like it better than many spots the usual consultants have made for other Democratic candidates.

CORRECTION: I don’t know whether the 60-second version of this ad is on the air. I saw a 30-second version (basically the second half) during a 10 pm newscast on October 28.

Thicke is massively outgunned on the financial front. His latest disclosure form showed about $30,479 cash on hand as of October 14. Northey had nearly $250,000 cash on hand even after running television commercials for weeks.

The Thicke campaign was able to reserve some air time and received a $25,000 matching gift pledge toward more advertising. Contributions up to $25,000 will be doubled. As of this morning, the campaign needed to raise about $15,000 more to fully capitalize on the matching gift. Not only that, Thicke’s ad buy is coming directly out of Northey’s because of an unusual rule I hadn’t heard of before. It comes into play when television stations have no further time to sell political candidates. Except from a Thicke campaign e-mail blast yesterday:

   *  #527 political pacs ($3mln+ spent in Iowa by two PACs alone) along with other candidates have bought all the significant Iowa TV time for the rest of the campaign.  There is nothing left. This means there won’t be any last minute smear campaign on the air – the television time has been bought.

   * However, being well-funded, Bill Northey, the incumbent Secretary of Agriculture, has bought substantial TV time in the key markets of Des Moines and Cedar Rapids with lesser amounts in Davenport, Dubuque etc.

   * Francis recently attempted to buy $40K in Des Moines from a key station and due to an equal-time rule they had to sell Francis half of Bill Northey’s time.  Now both candidates have $40K of TV.  Bill Northey has had money returned, and there is no other TV inventory for him to purchase.

   * With another $50K, Francis could take away $50K more from Northey’s TV time in key markets ($20K Des Moines, $20K and possibly $10 K in Davenport).  

   * This means contributions to Francis do double duty – they get Francis on the air and get Northey irrevocably off the air.

   * Further, there is a $25K matching promise which is ready to go to Francis. This means whether you contribute $10 or $10,000, your contribution will be matched!

   * Finally, according to the polls, Francis does an excellent job of converting independents and taking them away from Northey when these folks are exposed to even a simple presentation of his platform – TV.

   * This is not going to happen again!  The great irony is that this unique opportunity for leverage has been created for Francis by the massive influx of Republican and PAC money!

Thicke has been campaigning around the state for months with his message of building farm incomes, reducing the use of fossil fuels, and restoring zoning for CAFOs at the county level. Thicke’s economic development ideas would benefit conventional farmers as well as organic farmers like himself:

If we can begin producing more food locally, we can create more jobs and help rebuild our local populations. In Iowa, studies show that we import about 90 percent of the food we eat. And Iowa calls itself the food capital of the world! We should become the food capital of Iowa.

I’m certainly not opposed to commodity farming. We have a lot of production capacity and so commodity production will be a force in Iowa’s future. But being No. 1 in all these commodities doesn’t mean that farmers are making profits, except with the help of commodity subsidies and off-farm income. We need to diversify and produce more value-added products, both for the sake of jobs and our soil.

Thicke has articulated a stronger vision for the future of Iowa farming than Northey, as this clip from the candidates’ October 7 debate in Centerville shows. However, the sad reality is that television commercials have the potential to reach many more Iowans than what Thicke has said so far on the campaign trail. I made an additional campaign donation last night.

Share any thoughts about the secretary of agriculture race in this thread.

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  • Yes, 100% Volunteer Produced!

    Will Merydith here from the Thicke Campaign.  It is absolutely true that our ad was produced with 100% volunteer efforts.  We had a big potluck on the farm one afternoon and actors, film/sound crew and extras showed up and took part.

    The script was written by the campaign team with help from an independent film maker over a beer.

    I’m very proud that our ad is a true grass roots effort!  This is a wonderful campaign to be a part of.

    We have two 30s ads running and are trying to get the funds to run the 60s.  We had a lot of feedback from people who were concerned that the 60s was too long and the opening narrative would loose viewers.  I disagree, I think it builds the narrative and Geoff Boothby’s film work is really impressive . . . but I digress.

    Thanks for you support!