Ernest Istook Trailing In Advertising Race

Saturday, September 30th 2006, 3:21 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ ``The Oklahoma Way'' is emerging as a theme in Democratic incumbent Brad Henry's television advertising, while his underdog Republican challenger has yet to get on TV for the general election, putting him at a distinct disadvantage, experts say.

The campaign of U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., who is giving up his 5th Congressional District post to run for governor, denies any money problems and says Istook will make a late charge to overtake Henry.

Recent polls have showed Istook trailing almost 2-1 and it will be difficult to make a run at a popular incumbent without a substantial television presence, said Robert Shapiro, an expert on polling at Columbia University.

Istook was in Washington all last week because Congress was in session but had surrogates criticizing Henry in news releases and news conferences.

Meanwhile, the incumbent released his fourth television commercial since the primary, this time featuring a group of citizens 100 years old or older talking about ``The Oklahoma Way.''

The commercial plays on the state's 100th birthday and achievements during Henry's tenure, including tax cuts and increased pay for teachers.

``If you're doing all that ... you're doing it the Oklahoma way,'' centenarians say to close the 30-second spot.

The Istook campaign on Friday announced details of an Oct. 9 fundraising visit on Istook's behalf by Karl Rove, the top political adviser to President Bush. Supporters of the congressman would pay $500 to attend a reception with Rove, $1,000 for a photograph with the White House aide and $100 to hear him speak.

Shapiro said Rove's visit can help if it creates free advertising for Istook without a lot of negatives. But he adds it looks ``almost like a Hail Mary kind of thing.''

He suggested any money problems of Istook's can be tied to the fact that Henry is such strong incumbent. ``When incumbents are weak, challengers can attract money because people think the challenger has a chance to win,'' he said.

Derek Kern, Istook press secretary, said the congressman will launch a television drive ``very shortly,'' but couldn't say whether it would be before or after the Rove visit, which comes four weeks before the Nov. 7 general election.

Istook has said fundraising is going well, but has not provided any figures. His post-primary report showed him with only $29,000 in cash, to $2.5 million for Henry. Istook was forced to spend about $1 million in the primary.

Kim Gaddie, expert in political communications at the University of Oklahoma, said it makes sense for Istook to wait until the last three or four weeks to advertise on television if he has limited funding.

Gaddie said direct mail and other advertising can help a candidate for governor, but without a major TV effort, success would depend on ``an incredible grass-roots kind of effort and the front-runner has to get hit hard by some kind of huge negative.''

Istook has been mostly criticizing Henry on the immigration issue and saying the governor has been taking too much credit for programs such as tax cuts and anti-meth legislation that had Republican sponsors in the GOP-controlled House.

In reply, Henry has stressed his bipartisan approach and pointed to congressional failures on immigration, the budget and other issues, calling it ``The Washington Way'' as opposed to ``The Oklahoma Way.''

At a news conference last week, Republican state chairman Tom Daxon shrugged off a recent poll showing Istook, over the last month, had lost one point and Henry had gained four points for a 64-to-33 percentage lead.

Daxon did not argue that Istook is behind and said it is ``not a problem'' at this point. ``I think you will see those margins tighten and it's not at all out of the question that Ernest Istook can catch and beat Brad Henry in November.''

In some ways, Daxon was in a similar position to Istook when he was crushed by Democratic incumbent George Nigh in the 1982 governor's race.

Like Nigh, Henry has benefited from soaring revenues linked largely to an energy boom, enabling the enactment of tax cuts and record spending on education and roads.

The state was more Democratic then, giving Republicans hope this time around. But public opinion surveys so far have showed a significant crossover GOP vote for Henry.