funds unspent, Patt had quit.
In eight years, with 77 politicians, Oxman had won big and lost overwhelmingly. But none had ever abruptly abandoned a race like this.
For Oxman, 35, Patt's departure in January meant more than the loss of his 15 percent cut of the price of every commercial. It was a lost opportunity to add to his reputation as Pennsylvania's premier political consultant and a national comer; win or lose, he would have gotten credit for turning a nobody into a somebody.
Instead, it was back to Bob Borski and Tom Foglietta, who want to be re- elected as Philadelphia congressmen; Ed Garvey, the former football players' representative who is running for the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin, and Walter Dartland, seeking to be attorney general of Florida.
For Oxman and a handful of others in the Philadelphia area, this business of packaging politicians has become a new growth industry, a full-time trade in strategies, media and marketing.
Television has created an audience for candidates who can, with well- crafted phrases and memorable images, describe in 30 seconds why they should be your member of Congress or senator or governor or president. The intricacies of public-opinion polling, targeted mailings and big-time fund- raising have generated a demand for computer-friendly campaigners who may never have knocked on a door in their lives.
The choice of consultants depends on the candidate's political bent - conservative candidates usually won't go for liberal consultants, and vice versa - the depth of his pockets and the personal chemistry he develops with a given adviser.
Sometimes, that marriage of convenience and necessity can produce unlikely results.
Like the time consultant Saul Shorr nearly killed gubernatorial candidate Bob Casey. Or when Jonathan Macks produced the phony Chinese sign for Rep. Foglietta. Or when Oxman told Rep. Bob Edgar to stop acting like a wimp and to quit wearing cheap shirts. Or when Ronald Reagan walked off with Elliott Curson's necktie.
Curson is grinning with delight, listening to his new radio spots for OTC oyster crackers.
An actor with a mouthful of OTCs that barely muffle a New York accent is hyping the lowly cracker with enthusiasm and mock sincerity: "Hey folks (chomp, chomp) . . . now you can enjoy them (chomp) in the privacy of your own home."
Curson, an impish, dark-haired man with a high-voltage grin, giggles at the memory of the taping of the commercials.
"There were cracker crumbs all over the floor when he finished."
HOT DOGS AND CANDIDATES
The owner and mad wizard of Curson Advertising Ltd., Curson is Philadelphia's top Republican media consultant. He spends most of his time making commercials for crackers and hot dogs and clothing stores and hair stylists, but during the long political seasons, he also sells candidates.
In 1980, he created some of Ronald Reagan's primary-campaign television commercials, with foreboding images of Red Square military parades and a somber Reagan saying he'd rather be respected by the Soviets than liked by them.
In 1984, Curson helped engineer Frank Salvatore's victory over incumbent James Lloyd to give Republicans a coveted Northeast Philadelphia state Senate seat. Also in 1984, he produced a scathing series of commercials ("Don't let John Rockefeller do to the country what he did to West Virginia") that brought underfunded political neophyte John Raese to within a hair's breadth of victory in the West Virginia U.S. Senate race against the wealthy, retiring governor.
And most recently, he handled the media campaign of Ronald D. Castille, the upset winner in the 1985 Philadelphia district attorney's race and the first Republican elected to citywide office here since 1969.
That campaign featured unflattering pictures of Castille's opponent, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert W. Williams Jr., portrayed as a judge soft on crime, juxtaposed with the image of the earnest young Castille, missing a leg lost in Vietnam combat, striding into court on his crutches to put murderers and rapists in jail.
"I fought with Joe Duda (executive director of the city's Republican Committee) for Ron Castille as a candidate," Curson says. "I thought he'd be so easy to sell to the public - a career prosecutor, Vietnam veteran, one leg."
Curson began his career in the early '60s as an advertising art director, but quickly decided to launch his own company, working initially out of his parents' apartment in the Carlton House at 18th Street and JFK Boulevard. His first successful campaign was for a now-defunct restaurant on Bank Street named Tony George's, which he immortalized with the inelegant slogan, "Tony George's has stupid martinis."
NAN DUSKIN TO SENATORS
He did his first political work for a young district attorney named Arlen Specter in 1969, and now, at 47, after nearly two decades of political campaigns, mingled in his portfolio with the ads for Phillies Franks and Nan Duskin women's apparel, Curson has few illusions about political image-making.
"The same principles apply whether you're selling oyster crackers or a politician - you're taking something unknown and making it a household word," he says. "Whether you're selling Nan Duskin or a U.S. senator, you're asking people to think of something they haven't thought of before."
In the 1980 presidential race, Curson's Reagan commercials aimed directly at the issues of taxes, jobs and defense, with Reagan talking somberly into the camera while his key themes were spelled out on the screen in a few succinct phrases.
And it was for those Reagan spots that Curson, wanting to vary the candidate's appearance slightly, lent the president-to-be his red tie.
''We were running late, and Nancy kept calling, saying company was coming, and the Secret Service was coming over, saying they had to get going, and when they finally left, I realized he still had my tie."
In a few minutes, though, the entourage came roaring back to the studio. Reagan had realized halfway home that he had Curson's tie, and he turned the mini-motorcade around to bring it back.
Bob Casey's 1978 campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination ended in an upset loss in the primary, but the race turned out to be the incubator for a generation of Democratic political consultants.
The campaign brought together a band of young, liberal, ambitious men with an aptitude for the grunt work of politics. The cadre working under the tutelage of campaign manager Paul Tully - a Philadelphian and one of the national Democratic Party's top operatives - included Neil Oxman, Thomas Michael "Doc" Schweitzer, Bob Barnett and Saul Shorr.
Oxman and Schweitzer went on to form the Campaign Group, now the city's leading Democratic media consulting agency. Barnett became Rep. Foglietta's chief adviser, as well as a free-lance consultant whose political advice sells well enough to finance trips to the Yukon and the Amazon.
Shorr, 32, was a disaster as Casey's driver - he and the candidate got hit by an auto-delivery truck on Interstate 81 - but he moved on to form Shorr & Associates to run campaigns for a national clientele of liberal Democrats.
Along with Republican adviser Curson and Democratic consultants Macks and William Ross Miller, these men are the city's top hired political guns, the people who increasingly have supplanted Philadelphia's two parties as political organizers, fund-raisers, advisers and image-makers.
Before Jules Patt began his aborted run for governor, he talked to veteran national Democratic consultant Matt Reese.
"He gave me some excellent advice," Patt recalls. "He told me that what consultants are best at - all kinds of consultants, not just political consultants - is taking your money."
And Patt, a wealthy businessman who had lots of money to spend, says he found out that "there are more pretenders out there than real players. The only trade a lot of these characters seem to have is that they know a few people or can get you in to see a particular politician."
Eventually, Patt settled on the man who was W. Wilson Goode's media consultant for his triumphant 1983 mayoral campaign, and the one who produced memorable anti-nuclear-war commercials for the unsuccessful bid by Sen. Alan Cranston (D., Calif.) for his party's presidential nomination in 1984.
Oxman, Patt says now, was everything a lot of the other consultants he talked to weren't - smart, creative and proficient.
Oxman and partner Schweitzer are an unlikely pair: Oxman, 35, from Southwest Philadelphia, is brusque and intense, with a reputation for frankness with candidates that can border on bullying. Schweitzer, 32, from Lockhaven in central Pennsylvania, is bearded and mellow. But they make an effective team.
The Campaign Group took in about $500,000 its first year, in 1980. This year, Oxman says they expect to do "in excess of $5 million" in business. (Typically, media consultants work for a retainer - Oxman's ranges
from $1,000 to $10,000 - and a 15 percent cut of the price of the commercials that are aired.)
Oxman can be a pushy consultant. On the day that Bob Edgar hired him for his 1984 re-election campaign, Oxman made no bones about what he thought were the congressman's image problems.
"I told him I thought he came across a little wimpy and wore cheap shirts," Oxman says. "So he went out and bought some nice shirts."
Some other area consultants are critical of Oxman's style, even as they try to emulate his success.
"He intimidates some of his own candidates, and I think that's a mistake," says Shorr, describing himself as "Avis to his Hertz."
"People ought not to think they're talking to God in this business."
"What succeeds in this business is a single-minded purposefulness and desire to win," Oxman says. "And sometimes that gets people mad at you.
"It's hard to get people to do what they don't want to do. It's hard to get them to raise money, it's hard to get them to campaign where they don't want to campaign. It's hard to tell them to get on a plane and go somewhere when they'd rather be with their family. It's hard to yell and scream and sometimes push people around and work those extra hours.
"But you have to keep people focused on winning. . . .
"The budget is the deciding factor in what we do. It determines how much TV you can do, how big the staff will be, what kind of field operation you'll have. No matter whom you're working for, there's never enough money."
In the final analysis, Oxman says, he tries to construct broad campaign themes that will be stressed during a race, themes that all of the candidate's efforts will focus on, and themes the voters will remember.
"The voters are much more sophisticated than what you think . . . (but) the electorate will only retain a few things in the end, so you use very broad brush strokes."
Jerry Abramson recalls that when he ran for mayor of Louisville, Ky., last year, the image he projected "certainly wasn't 'young, single Jewish boy runs for mayor.' " Oxman insisted that Abramson make five points in every speech and public appearance: jobs, education, housing, security and cleanliness. He won with 74 percent of the vote.
Not all of Oxman's efforts have been so successful. In another Kentucky race he guided, incumbent U.S. Sen. Walter D. Huddleston was upset in 1984 by a county judge named Mitch McConnell by four-tenths of a percentage point, largely because of McConnell's clever TV commercials. The ads focused on Huddleston's attendance record, featuring bloodhounds sniffing frantically around Washington, looking for the missing senator.
Oxman has used similar tactics in advertising for his candidates: When former state legislator Joseph Hoeffel of Montgomery County tried to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. Lawrence Coughlin (R., Pa.), the Oxman-produced ads featured Coughlin's globe-trotting, and when state legislator Borski of Northeast Philadelphia successfully challenged U.S. Rep. Charles Dougherty, the advertising slogan was, "Who owns Charlie Dougherty?"
''When you're a congressman, there are lots of things that you do that the electorate might not be happy about," says Oxman. "Our job is to find those things out and point them out."
The race Oxman and Schweitzer are best-known for in Philadelphia is the Goode campaign for mayor. They were Goode's media consultants for a series of ads that portrayed him as competent, managerial and a friend to all. At least as important, they portrayed his Democratic primary opponent, former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo, as an old-time political boss beholden to political cronies.
Probably their best-remembered Goode commercial featured 10,000 unemployed people standing in the rain during Rizzo's administration for a chance at a handful of government jobs, only to learn that the jobs had already been handed out.
"We controlled the agenda, we put him (Rizzo) on the defensive. We made him the past," says Oxman, who is already consulting with Goode about the mayor's 1987 run for re-election.
Political candidates have had gimmicks and advertising and consultants almost as long as they have had campaigns: Consultants in the past, although they would never have claimed such a grandiose title, promoted candidates with billboards, buttons, banners and bottles of booze.
The old-time consultants were the political-party leaders, when the parties had much more clout in picking candidates and delivering voters.
"In the old days, the money was spent on kaffeeklatsches and clambakes and picnics," says Peter J. Camiel, the 76-year-old former Democratic City Committee chairman who has been working for candidates since 1932. "The party bigwigs would get together and make the choice of who the candidates would be, and the party leaders would advise the candidates what issues were important, and the candidates would have to stress those.
''We were our own political consultants, but I never thought of it that way.
''One thing I question today is people coming in from California, or wherever . . . and becoming instantly aware of what Pennsylvania expects from their officials, the history of the place and how the people think. They can't come in here and learn that by looking at a book."
But modern-day consultants sometimes find that they can abet the waning influence of old-style party organizations to the benefit of their candidates.
William Ross Miller, the city's leading black consultant and one of Goode's chief advisers during the 1983 campaign, wanted to limit the influence of the Rizzo-dominated Democratic City Committee.
"A win for me was to neutralize the impact of the city committee," recalls Miller. "That meant all the money was not all going to one place."
Miller, 38, courted black and liberal ward leaders, having Goode attend numberless breakfasts and dinners and meetings with the grassroots politicians.
"It was important to have Goode pay deference to the ward leaders when he was in their area," says Miller, who has been active in the campaigns of Councilman John F. White Jr., state Sen. M. Joseph Rocks, former Mayor William Green and mayoral candidate Charles Bowser.
"We really tried to cater to them."
Effectively split, the city committee eventually did what Miller and Goode had hoped: nothing.
Despite the mystique that has built up in recent years around consultants, most of them admit that they have a decisive impact on only a few races. Incumbents are almost always good bets to win re-election, and more money will usually beat less money.
"There are times in this business when anything you do is going to be right, and times when anything you do is going to be wrong," says Shorr, who has worked on campaigns for former Councilman John Anderson, attorney general candidate Michael O'Pake and Baltimore State's Attorney Curt Schmoke. His current campaigns include the congressional bid of Delaware County resident William A. Spingler and a North Carolina congressional contest.
"I'm not sure consultants are as important as they think they are," he says. "When you get to be famous and good, you get a lot of the campaigns that you have a very good chance of winning - it's almost like you're the New York Yankees and you schedule 70 percent of your games against the Texas Rangers."
"You're not the Wizard of Oz, and you have to remember that," says Macks, 32, a former aide to state Rep. Robert O'Donnell who, after working campaigns for Foglietta, Borski, Rizzo and a host of state legislative candidates, opened his own consulting firm, Wellington Associates, and is now working for the Casey campaign for governor. "But I really do think we make a difference."
'NOT GOOD POLITICIANS'
"Most candidates are not good politicians," says Bob Barnett, 35, a wandering consultant who is now working for Edward G. Rendell's gubernatorial campaign after efforts for, among others, Foglietta, state Sen. Craig Lewis and Allegheny County Controller Frank Lucchino. "A candidate has no more business running his campaign than a lawyer does representing himself.
"He's too close to it, too involved with it. A candidate needs to figure out his (political) positions, not spend his time on the phone or sending mail or deciding how something should be phrased. He should be doing things a candidate should do - shaking hands and giving speeches."
Macks recalls the time Foglietta became obsessed with having a campaign sign erected in Chinatown - in Chinese. After weeks of ducking the candidate on his demand ("There are only about 35 Chinese Democrats"), Macks was finally ordered, in the course of a two-hour screaming match, to get a sign up, immediately.
"I was on my way to see the restaurateur who was going to let us use his place, when I saw a sign being strung up across the street. I asked the guys what it said, and it was something like, 'May Festival coming soon.'
"I immediately called Tom, and said, 'OK, your sign's up, and it says, 'Chinatown supports Foglietta.' "