Editor’s Note: Ad Watch is an occasional Civil Beat series in which we analyze campaign messages from Hawaii candidates.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz sure has good timing.

He released a new campaign ad last week saying he finds the pay disparity between men and women to be “outrageous.”

The 32-second spot came out Thursday, one day after Senate Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act, which Democrats pitched as part of their election-year agenda.

The ad is already Schatz’s second in the young campaign season. He faces a challenge from U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.

Schatz’s first ad, which focused on Social Security, came out the same week he was endorsed by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a Washington D.C.-based group that commended the senator for his stance on the entitlement program.

The latest ad, titled “Opportunity,” again seizes the moment in light of national debate, and takes control of the discussion about who he is as a candidate.

Check out the video here:


Schatz’s ad begins with a photo of the senator as a child on a Hawaii playground and transitions to him as an adult in a classroom full of smiling, multi-ethnic children. But it’s the first line the senator says that makes an essential point.

“Growing up in Hawaii I was taught fairness,” Schatz says, “because we expect our sons and daughters will have equal opportunities in life.”

Schatz does not want to be out-localled in this race by Hanabusa, whose campaign has tried to paint the senator as a tool of mainland interests. Emphasizing up front that he grew up in Hawaii sets the tone that, yes, he is from the islands even if he wasn’t born here. (He moved to Hawaii when he was 2.)

But the ad quickly turns to the meat of the issue — the senator is a strong supporter of gender pay equity.

As a state and federal lawmaker, he says, he has sponsored legislation to cut the gap between men and women’s pay, while the words “Paycheck Fairness Act” appear on screen.

Schatz was one of 38 cosponsors of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was introduced April 1 by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland.

As a Hawaii state representative, he was also one of 40 state lawmakers who sponsored an equal pay bill during the 2005 legislative session that eventually became law.

Schatz’s ad ends with a close-up of the senator driving home the point that “equal pay for equal work isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s how we build an opportunity economy that works for all of us.”

So what is he trying to accomplish with this spot?

Schatz is positioning himself as a strong supporter of women, a bedrock principle of the Democratic Party. And it’s the staunchest Democrats who will pick either Schatz or Hanabusa as Hawaii’s U.S. senator in the Aug. 9 primary.

The ad also nudges him next to Hanabusa, who has made women’s empowerment a top issue. Her campaign includes a group called Women for Colleen that has been sending out emails to supporters and seeking donations.

Hanabusa is also backed by EMILY’s List, the pro-choice political action committee that in 2012 spent buckets of money helping Sen. Mazie Hirono secure her seat in Congress.

Off camera, the new ad also serves as a reminder of Schatz’s significant fundraising advantage over Hanabusa. He has raised $3.4 million, compared to her $1.6 million, and he’s starting to spend it. The ads are putting him out in front of the congresswoman when it comes to messaging. She has yet to run a single TV spot.

The extra airtime is good for Schatz because he still has a name recognition problem when compared to Hanabusa, who has been in Washington, D.C., longer and has held higher ranking positions in the Hawaii Legislature. A recent Civil Beat poll showed more likely Democratic primary voters were unsure of their feelings about Schatz than Hanabusa.

By running more ads early in the campaign, Schatz is taking the opportunity to tell voters who is on his own terms as well as drive the narrative when it comes to issues.

As he told Civil Beat during a recent interview, he will not allow Hanabusa’s camp to “turn me into a caricature.”

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