Editor’s Note: It’s an election year and that means lots of political commercials. Ad Watch is an occasional Civil Beat series in which we help you understand what you’re seeing and hearing when it comes to campaign messages from Hawaii candidates.

The Nov. 4 general election is just three weeks from Tuesday, so the television airwaves are increasingly crowded with political commercials. Thus far, the 30-second videos from the candidates themselves have accentuated the positive.

But national groups independent from the candidates are stepping up their attacks, especially in the close race for Hawaii governor. It’s the RGA versus the DGA — the Republican Governors Association versus the Democratic Governors Association.

Put another way, it’s about Democrat David Ige sharing blame for the Hawaii Health Connector “debacle,” as the RGA puts it, versus Republican Duke Aiona’s embrace of the anti-abortion stance of many “unpopular” Republicans nationally, as the DGA puts it.

The Race for Governor: Negative Ads

As seen in the spot above, the American Comeback Committee, connected to the RGA, attempts to detail what the RGA believes is Ige’s responsibility for “Hawaii’s failed health insurance exchange.”

There is little disagreement that the Hawaii Health Connector has had a problematic, costly rollout. Ige and Gov. Neil Abecrombie sparred over the exchange during the primary election, with the governor arguing that it was the Legislature’s creation and the state senator arguing that the state should have sought an exemption from the federal Affordable Care Act sooner.

Ige trounced Abercrombie in the primary, but the RGA wants voters to think the two Democrats are one in the same. That has been its pattern this election.

(On a related note, Aiona and Mufi Hannemann, the independent running for governor, have lately been hammering Ige over another health-related disaster, the troubled Hawaii Health Systems Corporation.)

The RGA ad is strong, with a dark soundtrack and selective clipping of words from news articles to support its claims. Will voters, who pay little attention to the complexity of how legislation is passed, tie Ige to Abercrombie and the Connector?

Meanwhile, Hawaii Forward, a super PAC affiliated with the DGA, has a new television advertisement that aims to remind voters that Aiona, the former lieutenant governor, opposes abortion rights.

The DGA’s ad is better than the RGA’s because 1) it uses the same footage of Aiona that Aiona uses in his own campaign’s positive ads, thereby confusing voters as to who the “real” Duke Aiona is; 2) it ties Aiona to national Republicans, who are not popular here at all; and 3) it ends on a positive note, playing up Ige’s support for women.

The DGA ad is also a not-very-subtle reminder that Aiona is a conservative Christian. That may inspire progressive Democrats to go to the polls and vote for Ige, but it might also inspire conservative Christians to go to the polls and vote for Aiona.

(Worried that Ige might be seen as taking the low road in the abortion ad against Aiona, the Ige campaign on Wednesday sent out an email to supporters to explain that Ige “has no affiliation” with the DGA clip.)

In spite of the abortion spot, in the RGA v. DGA battle so far it is the former that is doing a better job. The group sends out statements to reporters and other that includes links to multiple news reports that — at least on the surface — back up its claims.

The RGA’s TV offensive includes a recent spot that denounces Ige for considering an increase to the general excise tax in 2011. As Civil Beat reported, the issue is more complex and takes what actually happened out of context.

But then, political commercials are not known for complexity and context, especially with just 30 seconds to make a point.

The Race for Governor: Positive Ads

OK, we’re back to Happy Land now. One of Ige’s latest videos starts quite nicely, showing the senator working at a desk with a framed photo of his family seen clearly in the background.

Ige speaks of the common fear in Hawaii that the kids will grow up and move away because there isn’t enough opportunity in the islands. The ad says he’s pushed for small business tax credits and “high tech education,” whatever that is. And it attempts to show the candidate’s modest streak, his desire to “do good” rather than “look good.”

Nice touches: Stressing that Ige is a “Democrat for Hawaii,” and showing him and running mate Shan Tsutsui looking smart in dark business suits.

This ad from Ige, launched Wednesday, is even better because it plays the Akaka card:

“I’m Dan Akaka, and I’m voting for David Ige.” Those golden words may well help traditional Democrats who voted for Abercrombie in the primary get off the fence and vote for their party’s new standard-bearer.

Of course, Akaka also endorsed and campaigned for Colleen Hanabusa in her unsuccessful attempt to dethrone U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz. That was a very close race, and all indications are that the Ige-Aiona-Hannemann race is, too.

The latest ads from from Ige are standard “make the candidate look good” fare. So is the clip from Aiona:

Aiona, if you haven’t noticed yet, has placed his family front and center in this election, including his granddaughter, who I have previously said is perhaps the most beautiful child on the planet.

Are these ads softening up Aiona’s image and making him a smooth, digestible brand for the masses? Probably. This particularly spot, however, is over a minute in length, and it features a lot of footage from TV ads earlier in the election season.

YouTube says the clip was published Oct. 2, two days after Aiona was forced to pull a TV ad showing him in his judicial robes and apparently in a court chamber. The longer YouTube video also shows Aiona in judicial garb.

Hannemann, in the KITV-Civil Beat televised debate last week, reminded viewers that the Hawaii State Judiciary asked for the ad to be pulled because it violated policy. Aiona said it was due to a misunderstanding with the Judiciary and that his opponents are jealous of the high-quality video.

Speaking of Hannemann, here are two spots for the former Honolulu mayor:

Both spots star former University of Hawaii football coach Dick Tomey, who elected not to be Hannemann’s lieutenant governor running mate because of residency concerns.

And both spots are nearly identical, with footage taken from the same Hannemann appearances and featuring the same upbeat piano music. Both also have subpar production values.

It’s understandable; the Hannemann campaign has little money and, from what I can tell, no support from independent groups like those backing Ige and Aiona. The ads succeed, however, at getting Hannemann on TV and accentuating his executive experience and accomplishments.

The Race for Congress

Mark Takai, a state representative who is now the Democratic nominee for the 1st Congressional District, doesn’t say anything new in this latest spot. In fact, it uses some of the same video of him swimming laps and strolling around the University of Hawaii that was featured in previous ads.

This clip also focuses heavily on education, Takai’s speciality. And, once again, we see his wife and their young son and daughter around the dining room table. Purpose of the ad? To remind folks that he’s still running for office and that things did not end after he won the primary.

That’s pretty much the message of this next ad, too. It’s from VoteVets.org Action Fund, which has spent another $182,000 in television advertising for Takai. The group spent $100,000 in the primary and likely helped Takai defeat the favored Donna Mercado Kim and five other Democrats:

As with the RGA and DGA spots, VoteVets must work independently from the Takai campaign. But, as is often the case, the exact same video from Takai’s ads manages to find its way into the VoteVets ads.

The only big differences between the two spots is the VoteVets commercial highlights Takai’s military credentials. And the ad’s music sounds like it was taken from a heroic Hollywood flick like “Saving Private Ryan.”

One other point: Takai is identified as a Democrat. By contrast, you’ll not find Djou identifying himself as Republican in this political ad:

Yes, Djou does say he will work with Democrats and the “Republican majority in Congress.” And Djou is, of course, the Republican nominee for Congress.

But, as has been demonstrated several times in political ads this season, Djou and Aiona have generally distanced themselves from their own party in their TV ads. And that’s because they want to win the votes of Democrats and independents.

In this ad, Djou also includes his family and military service. Hit “pause” and zoom in on the part with Djou in uniform and you can read the disclaimer explaining that the U.S. Army and Department of Defense are not endorsing his candidacy. The VoteVets ad on Takai has a similar disclaimer.

Kudos to Djou’s production team that employed the use of a split screen. Something different. Lovely aloha shirt on the candidate, too.

Takai and Djou are in a close race for the 1st Congressional District. Not so the race for the 2nd Congressional District between incumbent Tulsi Gabbard and Republican Kawika Crowley. Same goes for the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Brian Schatz and Republican Cam Cavasso.

Unless I’ve missed it, there have been no TV ads for those two contests. So, rejoice that our viewing pleasure has less disruptions this fall season.

About the Author