Wealthy Republican Launches Multi-Million-Dollar Air War To Win GOP Presidential Primary.
By Jim Nintzel
JUNE 14, 1999: STEVE FORBES IS back on our television screens.
The multimillionaire publishing heir returned to Arizona airwaves last week as part of a national campaign to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2000.
Forbes spent tens of thousands of dollars statewide in the first week of the campaign, with plans to spend plenty more in the months to come. Nationwide, Forbes is expected to spend about $2 million in the next few weeks, primarily in four states: Arizona, New Hampshire, Iowa and California. Over the summer, projected campaign expenditures are an estimated $10 million, primarily designed to cast Forbes in a new light.
Hank Kenski, Southern Arizona regional director for Sen. Jon Kyl's office and an associate professor in the UA Communications Department, says that Forbes needs to overcome two perception problems with the public: first, that he's not presidential; and second, that he has a platform beyond the flat tax.
"He's trying to get people to see him as presidential and electable," says Kenski. "The campaign is targeted for certain television stations, it's targeted for talk radio, it's targeted for high-propensity voters with direct mail. It's well thought-out. Whether it works or not remains to be seen. But given where he's at, running 4 or 5 percent nationally, he's doing what he has to do to try to change those numbers."
The campaign is the brainchild of William Eisner, owner of a Milwaukee advertising agency best known for a campaign to resuscitate Mrs. Paul's fish sticks. "He apparently does very creative and quirky stuff. He's been very successful in product advertising," says Kenski.
It's the first time a presidential candidate has spent this much money this early in a campaign.
But Forbes wasn't hesitant to open up his checkbook during his first campaign in 1996. In the weeks leading up to Arizona's February 27 primary, Forbes spent between $3.5 million and $4 million across the state to capture the biggest win of his campaign. He took about one-third of the vote and won Maricopa County. Bob Dole received about 28 percent, winning Pima County, and Pat Buchanan placed third with 26 percent, winning rural Arizona.
"This time, we will build on our victory in 1996 with a full-fledged grassroots campaign," promises Bert Coleman, one of seven campaign staffers in Phoenix. "That's one of the reasons we're starting these ads so early--to continue building what you must have in present-day presidential politics: a very strong grass-roots organization."
Forbes is lining up support from Southern Arizona Republicans. Longtime political campaign worker Jackie Egan is assisting the effort. State Rep. Bill McGibbon has signed on as Southern Arizona chairman, while one source tells The Weekly that state Sen. Keith Bee will be chairing the Pima County campaign.
Since his 1996 campaign, Forbes has been moving to the right, courting social conservatives. "He's shifted, without question," Kenski says. "He's aware of the fact that there's a substantial group in the Republican party that is very concerned with social issues."
But Forbes is facing a different field from the one he did in '96. Among his opponents:
"A lot of these people are competing for the same folks," observes Kenski. "You've got Bauer, Buchanan, Quayle and now Forbes trying to eat into that. You've got Keyes picking up a little bit. They're all going after the same market."
An ABC/Washington Post poll released earlier this month showed 49 percent of registered voters nationwide favored Bush and 20 percent favored Dole. The rest of the pack remained mired in single digits, with 5 percent supporting McCain and 4 percent supporting Forbes, Buchanan and Quayle.
Meanwhile, polls of Arizona voters show many are undecided. An April Rocky Mountain Poll showed that Bush was the leading Republican candidate in Arizona with about 31 percent of the vote, up 10 percentage points from a similar poll in January. McCain, meanwhile, had dropped about 3 points to 23 percent. Dole was running at 12 percent, Forbes at 7 percent, Quayle at 4 percent and Buchanan at 3 percent. Twenty percent were undecided.
A January KAET poll showed 56 percent of voters had yet to settle on a candidate, 14 percent supported McCain, 8 percent supported Dole, 7 percent supported Bush, 3 percent supported Quayle and 2 percent supported Forbes.
But Kenski says poll numbers this early are fluid, particularly when the pollsters don't limit their questions to likely voters.
"None of these polls look at likely voters," says Kenski, who predicts the Arizona primary will come down to a race among McCain, Bush and Forbes, if the latter's advertising campaign is successful in lifting his numbers. "Likely voters are more attentive, more interested, often more ideological. The other factor might be how effective the campaigns are at identifying their voters and getting them out."
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