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Iowa's early caucus pits presidential campaigns against holiday ads.

Byline: David Pitt The Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa - In Iowa, 'tis the season for TV pitches, political and commercial. By the time Iowans ring in the New Year, they may be sick of both.

An earlier date for Iowa's caucuses probably means presidential candidates will run more television ads from mid-November through December, the height of the Christmas shopping season when retailers want to promote sales.

Moving the caucuses up 11 days to Jan. 3 also will force candidates to pay top dollar for TV ads over the holidays and soften their messages to avoid violating the serenity of the season. The same equation applies in New Hampshire, whose first-in-the-nation primary will follow the Iowa caucuses five days later.

"This is just like adding a hailstorm to a hurricane," said Evan Tracey, who tracks political advertising as chief operating officer for TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group. "You've got a 16-deep field of candidates, interest groups and everybody else that's all going to want the same time."

The schedule presents a conundrum for the presidential campaigns. Political advertising has a tendency to become more negative closer to an election as candidates seek to contrast themselves with their rivals.

"Attack ads don't necessarily blend well with Santa Claus and holiday cheer," said Steve McMahon, a Democratic media strategist who ran Howard Dean's presidential ad campaign in 2003 and 2004.

What's more, in a field with many candidates, negative advertising can backfire.

"If candidate A attacks candidate B, it's often not candidate A who benefits. It's candidate C or D or E," McMahon said.

He should know. In 2003, Dean was the target of negative advertising from liberal and conservative independent groups in Iowa and then engaged in tit-for-tat attack ads with Dick Gephardt. The result was that John Kerry won the Iowa caucuses and John Edwards came in second.

Fergus Cullen, the chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, said New Hampshire voters understand that politics will intrude on their holiday.

"I expect candidates will work the Communion line at St. Joe's on Christmas Eve," he joked. "New Hampshire voters take the process seriously and they fully expect to be in the thick of politics during the holiday season and that includes contrasting message. It won't harm candidates if they run aggressive campaigns."
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Title Annotation:Wire Politics; With Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 and New Hampshire's primary five days later, voters will see varied messages
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 26, 2007
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