Negative Tv Ads Fire Up Senate Race

Posted: October 15, 1991

HARRISBURG — Round One of the television ad fight for the U.S. Senate is on.

For the first time in the campaign, candidates are trading blows on TV - then claiming the other guy is hitting below the belt.

Republican Dick Thornburgh has a 30-second spot popping U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford, D-Pa., as an ineffective former "liberal college president" closely tied to Gov. Casey and the state's recent record tax hike.

Wofford's campaign says the ad's a cheap shot. "It's silly, inaccurate and irrelevant," said campaign adviser James Carville.

Wofford has a spot tagging Thornburgh as anti-middle class. It says Thornburgh opposes family leave, tax cuts and national health insurance, all of which Wofford supports.

Thornburgh aides call Wofford's ad deceiving. "It's a bald-faced lie," said campaign manager Michele Davis.

With three weeks to go to the Nov. 5 election to replace the late H. John Heinz, the race is clearly heating up.

Thornburgh, a former two-term governor and U.S. attorney general, is regarded as the front-runner. His campaign says a poll taken last week shows him 23 points up. If true, it's a sizable lead, but shows gains by Wofford.

Wofford, a former state Cabinet officer, is looking to retain the Senate seat to which Casey appointed him in May. His campaign says he's closing fast, that the Thornburgh poll is wrong.

Up to now, the television ads coming from both sides have been tame. Mostly they have promoted candidates' issues and resumes. The debut of negative ads suggests the race is tightening.

Wofford, as underdog, was expected to attack Thornburgh and is still expected to unleash heavier fire. Thornburgh is clearly out to stop Wofford's progress in the polls and play to the conservative leanings of the state's voters.

Wofford's ad follows his attempt to portray Thornburgh as a candidate of the privileged and powerful, an enemy of "working families."

The spot shows headshot photos of each candidate; Wofford looking serious on the left, Thornburgh wearing a silly grin on the right.

The ad says that Wofford is for family leave so "working families" can care for newborns or ill family members, he supports "a tax cut for the middle class," and he's for national health insurance. Thornburgh "opposes family leave," is "for wealthy" people, and against national health insurance.

The ad ends with Wofford walking and talking with factory workers as the narrator says, "Harris Wofford standing up for working families."

Thornburgh's ad (see AdWatch on this page) is tougher than Wofford's.

Insiders say it's designed to "define" Wofford now that he's moving up in the polls. Some see it as an indication Thornburgh hears Wofford's footsteps.

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