- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 5, 2016

With less than a month before the crucial Iowa caucuses, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton is flooding the airwaves with an upbeat pitch to voters, promising to “get the job done” and drive up incomes for working families.

She has been able to run a positive messaging campaign because her two major challengers, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, have shied away from attacking her on the airwaves.

Indeed, Mr. Sanders avoids even the slightest hint of negative advertising, and Mr. O’Malley has not made a splash on the airwaves because he is conserving his meager finances.

It’s a striking contrast with the Republican field, which resembles a circular firing squad.

Some analysts say Mr. Sanders may have to abandon his friendly approach if he is to catch up to Mrs. Clinton.

“For Sanders, I think there’s a moment of truth sooner or later regarding playing negative ads,” said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire who specializes in presidential elections. “Now, there’s a case to be made that running negative ads in a party primary against a fellow party member is risky because partisans don’t like seeing fellow partisans attack one another, so that can backfire. [Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton] have ample reason to refrain from going negative, but that could well change, especially in Iowa, as we get closer.”

Mr. Sanders‘ campaign ads, much like his stump speech, focus on bashing Wall Street, calling for the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes and casting the entire U.S. political system as beholden to corporations.

He also boasts that he is relying on small donations from individuals rather than financial support from the wealthy or from super PACS.

“It’s a system held in place by corrupt politics, where Wall Street banks and billionaires buy elections,” he says in one ad. “My campaign is powered by over 1 million small contributions, people like you who want to fight back. The truth is, you can’t change a corrupt system by taking its money.”

Other Sanders commercials also have focused on the themes of income equality and an economy that works for all.

At least two ads have sought to cast Mr. Sanders as a pragmatic politician capable of working with Republicans.

One commercial, for example, highlights his work with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, on securing more money for veterans’ health care.

Mrs. Clinton’s advertising strategy is twofold. She has used commercials to help tell her life story and the story of her family.

One ad, for example, explains how and why she chose to work for the Children’s Defense Fund, rather than a high-powered law firm, after graduating from law school.

Other Clinton campaign ads have focused on specific policy areas, such as college affordability, funding for Planned Parenthood, voting rights, marriage equality and others.

She also has made income inequality and related issues central parts of her advertising message in recent weeks as she tries to crack into Mr. Sanders‘ base of liberal support.

Hillary Clinton will work to close the wage gap,” a narrator says in her most recent ad, which is running in Iowa and New Hampshire. “Equal pay for women, to raise incomes for families, a higher minimum wage, lower taxes for the middle class — she’ll get the job done for us.”

Analysts say it’s unlikely Mrs. Clinton will go negative and risk angering Mr. Sanders‘ enthusiastic liberal supporters.

“Why alienate progressives who aren’t necessarily against you as much as they like Bernie?” Mr. Scala said. “Maybe you don’t want to turn off those voters.”

Even without negativity, the campaigns have spent heavily.

As of late December, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign had spent more than $12 million on TV and radio ads. Mr. Sanders‘ campaign had spent about $7.5 million, according to data from SMG Delta.

Mr. O’Malley, who is languishing in the polls, has spent little on advertising. SMG Delta tallies do show, however, that the pro-O’Malley super PAC group Generation Forward has spent about $218,000 on TV and radio commercials.

Mr. O’Malley’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment about its advertising plans.

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