- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Call it niche marketing; call it savvy politics.
In campaign-trail appearances and television commercials, Mark R. Warners campaign is packaging him differently, depending on the target audience.
For the southern part of the state, the Democrat running for governor of Virginia is playing the good ol boy, driving NASCAR racetracks and appearing in local papers shooting a machine gun with the sheriff. In the Washington suburbs, though, the multimillionaire is running a more buttoned-down, get-to-know-you campaign.
In his first round of television ads, most of the state regularly saw an ad titled "Down Home," showing scenes of Mr. Warner standing next to a NASCAR Craftsman Series truck he sponsored at Martinsville earlier this year, among other campaign scenes. The soundtrack has no announcer, just a bluegrass band playing and singing a song touting Mr. Warners understanding of "the folks up in the hills."
But in Northern Virginia that ad ran only briefly, during a NASCAR race shown on cable television two weeks ago. Instead, most viewers in the Washington media market saw the biographical sketch ad that explains Mr. Warners background: working his way through college, making his fortune and starting his regional investment firms.
"It appears to be a conscious strategy by Warners campaign to give people in rural Virginia an impression of Mark Warner that he doesnt want folks in Northern Virginia to see," said Quintin Kendall, political director for Mark L. Earley, the attorney general and one of two Republicans seeking his partys gubernatorial nomination.
Analysts said candidates often emphasize different issues in different parts of the state, but typically run the same biographical sketch statewide.
"Its unusual to have two different images projected in two regions of the state, though its not completely unprecedented," said Larry Sabato, political commentator at the University of Virginia.
Mr. Warners campaign, though, said its the same message — just different ways of reaching different constituencies.
"The message of this ad is simply that Mark Warner is not going to leave anyone behind, and that hes going to reach out to segments of the population and regions of the state that statewide Democratic candidates traditionally neglect," said Mo Elleithee, a spokesman for the Warner campaign.
Today, Mr. Warner begins his second round of television ads. The Washington-area ad is about education and better jobs, while the rest of the state will see him connect his success as a businessman to his prospects as governor.
Its not unusual to target issue ads like these, analysts said.
Campaign staffers wouldnt discuss the strategic decisions behind which ads ran when and in what media markets. Campaigns are usually reluctant to discuss that information because it gives opponents an inside look into campaign strategy.
The traditional biographical sketch ad ran statewide, and Warner staffers say its possible the "Down Home" ad will run in Northern Virginia later. They said both ads that begin running today are likely to be seen statewide eventually.
Analysts say spending time courting rural votes follows a tried-and-true strategy for early campaigning.
"Mark Warner has a very sophisticated understanding of the state and is following what has become a standard and often successful approach, spending a lot of time in the 'down home, often rural parts of the state, introducing himself often on a face-to-face basis," said Tom Morris, political analyst and professor at Emory and Henry University in Southwest Virginia.
That strategy — used effectively by former governors Democrat L. Douglas Wilder and Republican George F. Allen — gave them credibility for later in the campaign and left them free to focus heavily on the urban areas of the state later.
Republicans have yet to begin running ads, in part because there is no clear candidate yet. Mr. Earley, the Republican attorney general, has a lead in the nominating process over Lt. Gov. John H. Hager, but the decision will come down to a nominating convention in Richmond June 2.


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