Rapid Senate Campaign Heats Up Airwaves, Web

Download Audio

With less than three months until the special primary election for U.S. Senate, the candidates are turning to new approaches to get out their messages.

WBUR Topics: Sprint To The Senate
WBUR Topics: Sprint To The Senate

With the combination of paid media, heightened news coverage and social media — sites such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook — the candidates have more opportunities to reach out to voters.

"All of that is adding up to something that's more than the usual critical mass you get this early on," said WBUR Senior Media Analyst John Carroll, adding that it would be difficult to do so using only paid media advertisements.

Carroll said City Year co-founder Alan Khazei has the leading edge as far as tapping social media, in part because of his service organization Be The Change, Inc., which has "given him a foundation from which to build on."

Rep. Michael Capuano has done a good job with his television ads, Carroll said, because he needs more name recognition. In Capuano's ads, he emphasizes that he is the heir to the Kennedy legacy.

"Only one candidate stood with Ted Kennedy against Bush's Iraq war and mirrors his progressive record," an announcer in one of Capuano's ads said. It then lists several issues that are important to Capuano, including a public option for health care, middle-class tax cuts, gay marriage rights and ethics reform.

Carroll said that ad is an effective tool for reaching out to voters.

"He also goes to specific issues that are important to traditional Democrats and that's whose going to turn out in a primary," Carroll said.

Venture capitalist and Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca has bombarded television with his ads, but Carroll said they are not particularly effective.

"I'm running for Senate to bring my 25 years of business experience to Washington so that we can turn this nation around," Pagliuca says in the ad.

One stark difference is that Pagliuca doesn't have as much energy.

"It sort of lulls you into not paying all that much attention to the ad," Carroll said.

Carroll said there are two main problems the multi-millionaire needs to confront in the race: name recognition and his reason for being in the race.

"You can go out and buy name recognition, but you can't buy legitimacy," Carroll said.

So far, Attorney General Martha Coakley has not had any television advertising presence. Carroll said that is not all that surprising because she has been focused on fundraising and establishing her foundation and she already has the most statewide name recognition out of all the candidates.

Coakley easily leads the pack in fundraising, with $2 million raised since she entered the race in September, her campaign said.

Republican contender state Sen. Scott Brown also has been missing from the television screen, but he has posted a video on YouTube urging people to get involved in his campaign.


"I want to also welcome you to the 'Brown Briggade,'" Brown says in the video. "So get out there, get active, and get involved."

Carroll said the use of the term "Brown Briggade" may not be a savory image for a Senate campaign, but the video says a lot more about Brown's bid.

"What the YouTube video indicates is that is going to be a little bit of an ad hoc, scrambling kind of a campaign," Carroll said. "His campaign people say he's too busy out there collecting signatures and fundraising to be thinking about paid media right now."

One good way to tell how candidates are doing as far as getting their message out is Twitter. Carroll said every candidate has an account.

Coakley (@MarthaCoakley) has the most Twitter followers, with 590. Brown (@ScottBrownMA) comes in second, with about 520, which Carroll believes is boosted in large part because his daughter Ayla was once contestant on Season 5 of "American Idol."

Khazei (@AlanKhazei) has about 430 Twitter followers; Pagliuca (@stevepagliuca), 190; and Capuano (@mikecapuano), 170.

"I'm not sure it's the best yardstick, but it's one where at least you're comparing apples to apples," Carroll said.

WBUR's Kathleen McNerney compiled this report.

This program aired on October 2, 2009.


More from WBUR

Listen Live