Internet ad touts Corbett's record on jobs

Spot takes a page from Reagan's 1984 re-election advertisement

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While his signature policy initiatives remain mired in a Legislature controlled by his own party, Gov. Tom Corbett's strategists are attempting to refocus the debate for the looming campaign with an ad, the first of his re-election effort, that touts his record on jobs.

The so-far Internet-only spot shows a parade of people waking up and heading happily off to work to the accompaniment of a medley of upbeat music and ringing and chiming alarm clocks.

"There are thousands of Pennsylvanians who are doing something that many of them haven't done in a long time. They're getting up and going to work," a narrator states. "That's because since Tom Corbett became governor, Pennsylvania has created a remarkable 116,000 private sector jobs."

The video is reminiscent of an iconic ad in former President Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign, "It's Morning Again in America," which similarly showed a parade of average folk going to work, amid narration contrasting their sunny prospects with the lagging economy that existed at the beginning of his first term.

The embattled Mr. Corbett can only hope that the resemblances don't end there.

Mr. Reagan had presided over a steep recession exacerbated by high interest rates prescribed by Paul Volcker's Federal Reserve Board as an antidote to the inflation that had battered the economy under the Ford and Carter administrations. Economic conditions had begun to rebound by the time Mr. Reagan faced former Vice President Walter Mondale, and the ad was credited with reinforcing the sense that the nation was headed in the right direction, a view evidenced in his landslide re-election.

On the state level, Mr. Corbett also inherited a bad economy, a fact that helped to propel the GOP tide that swept him into office along with Republicans across the country. In contrast to the national mood of 1984, however, polls and Mr. Corbett's lagging approval rating suggest that, 18 months before he has to face the voters, Pennsylvanians have yet to embrace the idea that the state and its government are heading in the right direction.

Democrats wasted no time sniping at the video's claims, noting that the private sector job gains were partially offset by job losses in the public sector. Mike Mikus, campaign manager for Katie McGinty, one member of the growing field of Democrats vying to challenge the incumbent in 2014, derided the spot with a statement asserting, "A political ad highlighting jobs by a governor who drove Pennsylvania from seventh to 46th in the nation would be comical if it weren't for the Pennsylvanians who can't find a job because of Tom Corbett's policies."

Pennsylvania has benefited from the 116,000 jobs cited in the Corbett ad, but its unemployment rate has remained above the national average for most of the past two years. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics compiled by the Business Journals, the state's overall rate of job growth during Mr. Corbett's tenure is just over 1 percent, trailing the national growth figure of 2.03 percent.

The Corbett ad was produced by Brabender-Cox, the media firm headed by John Brabender. Mr. Brabender acknowledged that the state's economy is not yet where most people would wish, but he noted the state's unemployment rate had begun to move in a more positive direction in recent months.

"I started to think, I didn't just want to show people working," he said. "I was really trying to put a face on what happens when people go back to work ... in the context of the family."

"A lot of people are happy when that alarm clock goes off," he added.

Mr. Brabender dismissed the suggestion that the ad's timing was calculated to move the political conversation away from his client's legislative frustrations.

"Not at all," he said. "It was sitting there [already produced] with the decision made that we should not be releasing it until the budget cycle was over. We didn't want to inject politics into the budget cycle."

The strategist said the decision to post the ad on the Internet, rather than broadcast or cable television, was prompted in part by the fact that "we're way away from the election."

"The number of people interested in the election this far out have similar traits ... news hungry, regularly on the Internet. We can identify those people and make sure they get our message," he said.

"Viewership habits have changed dramatically. The days of people sitting home in their living rooms are gone. The days of appointment television are gone. ... We're going to have a mobile presence, a tablet presence. Wherever people are [consuming media] we are going to be sure there's a way to reach them."

Mr. Brabender said in the ads to come -- on the Internet and elsewhere -- the campaign would continue to try to burnish Mr. Corbett's image but also would work to steer voters' early perceptions of the field of Democratic challengers targeting the incumbent.

"The decision was made as soon as the budget was signed," he said. "We're going to tell our story -- not just the Tom Corbett accomplishments, [we're] also very much looking forward to sharing some of the distinctions."

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Politics Editor James O'Toole: or 412-263-1562. First Published July 7, 2013 4:00 AM


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