IA-04: Christie Vilsack on the air with positive tv ad

Democratic candidate Christie Vilsack launched her first television commercial across Iowa’s fourth Congressional district yesterday. The 30-second spot depicts the former Iowa first lady as a nonpartisan figure who’s willing to work with everyone to represent Iowa values. Follow me after the jump for the video, annotated transcript, and analysis of the Vilsack strategy.

I’ve also enclosed below the transcripts for the three radio advertisements Vilsack’s campaign has broadcast this summer. Whereas the tv spot does not mention Vilsack’s opponent by name, the radio ads paint an unflattering picture of Representative Steve King as a creature of Washington. A future Bleeding Heartland post will feature King’s campaign advertising.

“Just Iowa” started running district-wide on August 15:

Annotated transcript:

Christie Vilsack walking outside, speaking directly to the camera: When I was seventeen, my life was turned upside down when my mom died of cancer. [Words “Christie Vilsack” are on screen]

Vilsack’s voice continues: But in that small Iowa town, everyone from my Girl Scout leader to the local librarian pitched in to help me through. [view shifts to photos of Vilsack as a teenager with others from her home town; near the bottom of screen, viewer sees “Text FUTURE to 83224 Message and data rates may apply”]

Vilsack speaking to camera again: Today in Congress, that value is missing. [text message number continues to appear near bottom of screen]

Vilsack’s voice continues: Instead of working together to tackle big problems like rebuilding our middle class, politicians just scramble to the TV cameras to stir the pot. [view shifts to footage of Vilsack speaking with ordinary people of different ages and in different settings, text message number remains on screen]

Vilsack speaking to camera: Well, I’m not interested in fighting for any political party. Just Iowa. [text message number remains on screen]

Vilsack’s voice continues: I’m Christie Vilsack, and I approve this message. [footage of Vilsack speaking with others, words on screen: Christie’s plan for Iowa’s future: ChristieVilsack.com Approved by Christie Vilsack. Paid for by Vilsack for Iowa, Inc.]

This commercial echoes the first themes of Vilsack’s campaign rollout last year. Rather than leading with her differences from King on policy matters, she emphasizes her non-partisanship and ability to work well with others. She ties those personality traits and leadership qualities to her small-town background.

As a “city girl” (by Iowa standards), I feel compelled to add that friends and neighbors stepped up to the plate for me in a big way when my mother died young. So I don’t consider it a uniquely “small town” value to show compassion for a child in Vilsack’s unfortunate circumstance. Anyway, growing up in rural Iowa didn’t stop Steve King from becoming the guy who “scrambles to the tv cameras to stir the pot.”

Getting back to the point, I understand the logic behind this commercial. In a district with 53,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats, Vilsack would be foolish to run with a strongly partisan message. Compared to most Congressional challengers, the former Iowa first lady has very high name recognition, so she doesn’t need to introduce herself to the electorate with a typical biographical piece. From that perspective, it makes sense for Vilsack to highlight her mature, cooperative temperament.

I remain skeptical that Vilsack can run a successful campaign on broad themes while avoiding specific comments on various issues. She has released nine policy proposals, mostly on non-controversial topics. Meanwhile, on many occasions she has declined to answer direct questions about whether she would support a Democratic approach to federal policy. The most striking example of this caution came through during Vilsack’s interview on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program in June. Excerpt:

Obradovich: The Supreme Court is going to rule soon on whether the Affordable Care Act is constitutionally acceptable. And as you know your opponent has campaigned for a long time on totally repealing what he calls Obama care.  If the Supreme Court does happen to uphold the law, do you think that is the end of the story?  Or are there things that you would seek to change in that health care law?

Vilsack: Well, I think it’s always better to have a bill than no bill and we have a bill and we don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few weeks.  We’ll have to see what happens.  But there are a lot of great things in that bill and there are things we need to change, obviously.

Obradovich: Like what?

Vilsack: But the good things — I think we need to focus on what we would want to keep regardless of what happens.  And I think certainly — I was talking to — my car broke down two nights ago on Highway 35 and I was sitting waiting for AAA and this 23 year old young man picked me up and took me, towed my car back to Ames.  So I had fifteen minutes to talk to him.  So I started asking about — he just was married and I asked him what were the things that concerned him most, what they were spending their money on.  And he said, well, I don’t have to worry about health care for another year because I’m still on my parents’ insurance which is something that the health care, the new Affordable Care Act does.  It allows people to keep children on their health care.  Now, he’s figuring that out.  But that’s really important.  Pre-existing conditions are really important.  I think one of the most important things — and fascinating things because I think it addresses the issue of cost in the future is what is happening in Fort Dodge right now.  They have gotten money from the Medicare and Medicaid innovation center to actually become an ACO and to work on how they keep people out of the hospital.  They are trying to figure out — they are going to get paid based on making people well and keeping people out and concentrating on a person’s needs and coming up with a team of people.  So I think there are a lot of innovative things happening that we need to concentrate on and move on from there.  But we have to contain costs, we have to make sure people have access and that it’s quality.

Obradovich: I’ll ask you one more time — is there anything in particular that you would change?  Anything you have in mind that you would want to change no matter what happens with the Supreme Court?

Vilsack: Well, I think there are probably a lot of small things.

Obradovich: But no one big —

Henderson: So you support the mandate?

Vilsack: No, I think there are a lot of — I think there are a lot of different ways that we can go about this creatively.  I think we need to make sure that everybody has access to care.  Everybody does have access actually, it’s just people can go to the emergency room.  So everybody has access.  But we need to make sure everybody has access that is affordable to all of us so the rest of us aren’t having to pay for it.

Obradovich: Are you saying you don’t support the mandate then?

Vilsack: I think that we’re going to see a lot of different ways that we can make sure that everybody has access.  So, it might be the mandate, it might not be the mandate.  I think right now, for instance, the Governor of Oregon is looking at some cooperative methods.  He’s looking at ways to save $1 trillion by creating a cooperative.  So I think right here in Iowa — I’ve talked to Dr. Carlisle and David Lyons are working on a cooperative model for health insurance.  I think there’s a lot of innovation coming right now and it’s moving — a lot of things are happening regardless of what happens with the Supreme Court and happens with the bill.  So I like to focus on the innovation and how can we figure this out.  We’ve got a lot of great minds.  We can figure out how to do this, mandate or not.  We need to make sure that people have access.

Henderson: We’re journalists, though, we like black and white.  Are you for the mandate or are you against it?

Vilsack: I don’t — I’m not for it or against it.  I think we need to figure out a way to get everybody access to health care, affordable health care.  And so we won’t know what happens with the Supreme Court.  When they do decide what they’re going to do then we’ll move on with whatever they have decided.[…]

Obradovich: In that context, do you agree with President Obama that same sex couples should be allowed to marry?  Or is that also a distraction?

Vilsack: Well, I think that we have dealt with that issue in Iowa.  Our Supreme Court has dealt with it.  Our Constitution basically says that we see everyone — everyone should be equally protected under the law.

Obradovich: And you think that that’s the way it should be?  If it came up for a vote of Iowans would you vote to keep it that way?

Vilsack: Well, our Supreme Court has already decided so I think we need to move on.  People are not talking about those issues with me out there.  People are talking about the economy and they are talking about —

Obradovich: President Obama is talking about it.  People are talking about same sex marriage here in Iowa and around the country.

Vilsack: I know but I think — I know he has been talking about it recently and certainly if it came to a vote — tell me what vote you’re asking.

Obradovich: Well, no —

Henderson: If you were in Congress, would you vote to support a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage nationwide?

Vilsack: Well, if I were in Congress I would vote to do away with DOMA because I think the state should make that decision.

Borg: The Defense of Marriage Act.

Obradovich: It should be a state issue — and as a resident of Iowa if the Iowa legislature asked for a constitutional amendment to require marriage to be between a man and a woman only would you vote for that?

Vilsack: Well, that is a state issue.  I’m running for Congress and so I’ve told you how I would vote in Congress.  I would vote to make sure that people had the opportunity at the state level to make that decision.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only person watching that interview who wanted to yell “Just answer the question!” Steve King may come across as an unpleasant partisan warrior, but he isn’t afraid to tell you where he stands. Vilsack claims to be running an issue-based campaign, but she doesn’t like to be pinned down on anything she hasn’t chosen to highlight as part of her plan to represent Iowa. I don’t know whether she’s getting bad advice or ignoring good advice, but Vilsack better not try tap dancing around the question during her upcoming debates against King.

A few days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the 2010 health care reform law, Vilsack released a list of seven ways Congress should “reform the Affordable Care Act to control the skyrocketing costs of health care in America.” That message will not be as easy to convey as King’s “repeal Obamacare now” drumbeat.

Vilsack’s campaign has been running radio advertisements since mid-June. The three commercials aired so far are different from the new television spot in style. A male voice-over criticizes King by name in strong terms, with Vilsack’s voice audible only during the “I approved this message” disclaimer at the end. The common thread through the radio and television advertising is its focus on personality traits: in this case, King’s allegiance to “Washington values” and the perks of life as a member of Congress.

You can listen to all of the commercials on this site, which also includes background provided by the Vilsack campaign.

Here’s the transcript for “Iowa Way,” a radio ad the Vilsack campaign started running on June 13:

Male voiceover: Here in Iowa, we’re guided by our values.

Hard work.  Service.  Responsibility.

But after ten years in Washington, our Congressman, Steve King, has lost touch with those values.

When Congress voted on giving a fifteen hundred dollar bonus to our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, Steve King cast the deciding vote against it.

But when it came to his own income, King went a different way – taking a pay raise five times…boosting his salary to a hundred seventy-four thousand.

The Register reports that King says he deserved a raise.  

He said, quote: “If nobody has enough nerve to vote for a pay raise, we would still be making what the first Congress is making….”

He said no to a bonus for our troops…but yes to pay raises for himself.

That’s the way Washington works.

But it’s not the Iowa way.

Read the facts at: SteveKingVotes dot org.

Christie Vilsack:

I’m Christie Vilsack, candidate for Congress, and I approve this message.

Voice Over:

Paid for by Christie Vilsack for Iowa Incorporated.

Vilsack’s second radio ad, which started running on June 27, also focused on King’s pay raises.

Male voiceover: After ten years in Washington, just how Washington has Congressman Steve King become?

Well, we know Congressman King took five pay raises, which increased his salary by nearly $20,000, but opposed a $1,500 bonus for our troops.

And then there’s his travel. Since arriving in Washington, King has accepted at least 30 trips from private groups, including trips to Berlin, Moscow, and Sydney, Australia, worth more than $130,000 in all.

Then there’s this. King voted to protect taxpayer-funded pensions for Washington lobbyists. So it’s not that surprising that the American League of Lobbyists in Washington posted on Twitter “Three cheers for Congressman Steve King.”

You see, that’s the way Washington works, but it’s just not the Iowa way.

Read the facts at SteveKingVotes.org.

Christie Vilsack: I’m Christie Vilsack, candidate for U.S. Congress, and I approve this message.

Paid for by Christie Vilsack for Iowa Incorporated.

On July 16, the Vilsack campaign launched its third radio commercial. This 60-second spot recapped the themes from the earlier ads and again portrayed King as more in touch with Washington, DC than Iowa.

Male voice-over: Okay, we know Congressman Steve King took five pay raises, boosting HIS salary to a hundred seventy four thousand dollars.

We heard about the more than one hundred thirty THOUSAND dollars in trips he took.

That’s what King did for HIMSELF.

But what’s he done for IOWA?

Last year, King said that providing unemployment relief to job-seekers was making us QUOTE “a nation of slackers.”

For those middle-class Iowans WITH jobs, King voted to RAISE the payroll tax – a fifteen hundred dollar tax hike on the average Iowa family.

Even a majority of King’s own PARTY voted the other way.

And just this month, King said asking the wealthy to pay their fair share in taxes was “class envy.”  Here he is on CNN.

King’s voice: “If you demonize the people that are making over $250,000 a year and you say they aren’t paying their fair share…that’s the class envy piece.”

Male voice-over continues: Steve King doesn’t just work in Washington.

He IS Washington.

Get the facts, at Steve King Votes dot org.


I’m Christie Vilsack, candidate for Congress, and I approve this message.

Paid for by Christie Vilsack for Iowa, incorporated.

Although those radio spots mention some of King’s votes in Congress, they are primarily about his personality traits (such as alleged hypocrisy), not about his policy record.

Any comments about the IA-04 race are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Last weekend, the Sioux City Journal published lengthy profiles by Bret Hayworth on King and Vilsack. Both are worth reading.

  • over before it started......

    good analysis of this by desmoinesdem….

    Three points:

    1. Christie demolished any credibility she had with her shockingly bad performance as the commentary noted on Iowa Press.  Even democrats have been quoted in the news as saying her performance was “dreadful”…and she was “unprepared”. Others know it was far far worse than that. Frankly, she did a lot of damage to the Vilsack brand in Iowa on this show.  We didn’t even get into the layered mayo salad portion of the interview.

    2. Regarding the comment about her advisors…I think she is listening as well as she can to them, but I also think she has hired the worst possible strategic firm as lead advisor.  My additional bet here is that Tom is way way too involved in decisions, and it is backfiring big time.

    3. Way too many pictures of Christie holding pies on her website and other locations on the web.  Who advised that???  This sets this campaign to elect a woman back decades.

    • uprating

      not because I agree entirely with mirage, but because this comment clearly does not deserve a zero under Bleeding Heartland’s ratings system.

      One bad tv interview five months before the election isn’t enough to wreck a campaign, especially since “Iowa Press” doesn’t reach a mass audience. My concern is with the general strategy of avoiding comment on certain hot-button issues. I get the idea of not going out of your way to alienate potential supporters, but people want to know that you stand for something and aren’t afraid to answer the question.

      I don’t think she was “unprepared” so much as overly-prepared–that is, stuck on a flawed strategy of not answering questions on issues that don’t play to her strengths in this district.

      The pies don’t bother me as much as the conservative messaging (see also here and here), but I see your point.

    • it was always clear

      that Vilsack would do well w/ fundraising, so the usual DC metro area vendors and strategists enjoy a payday with no accountability for results. I don’t get the idea that much thought is going into these mailers & persuasion campaigns.

      Sticking her in IA-04 was a matter of political convenience for national and state Democrats and even for her husband. I have nothing but contempt for the anonymous Democrats who have littered various venues with their “concern” trolling.

      When your husband is Sec of Ag & your mailers are arriving from NoVA, “nonpartisan hometown gal” just isn’t credible. And what’s up with treating your would-be constituents like children?

      This sets this campaign to elect a woman back decades.

      It’s not just the pies.

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