WASHINGTON – Television commercials that include endorsements from high-profile supporters have become almost a staple of John Kerry's presidential campaign. Both Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack (search) and former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (search) have appeared in them.
"That fella. He can go all the way," Hollings says.
As voting nears, political campaigns often roll out TV and radio ads with favorite political sons and daughters and newspapers giving their stamps of approval to particular candidates. The hope is that voters, especially those who haven't decided whom to support, will follow their leads.
"They help validate a candidate who is surging and help give a candidate momentum when they are foundering," said Donna Brazile, a Democratic consultant who ran Al Gore's 2000 campaign and is unaligned this year.
Allan Louden, a political communication professor at Wake Forest University, said voters tend to pay more attention to the sales pitch when it comes from respected leaders they trust. Such commercials also may help undecided voters "break a tie in their minds," he said.
Still, political analysts say, campaigns must carefully choose the supporters they feature: well-known politicians are not well-loved by everyone and ads featuring them could backfire.
Most of the Democratic presidential candidates have used endorsements in their advertising.
When The Des Moines Register endorsed North Carolina Sen. John Edwards days before Iowa's Jan. 19 caucuses, his media team scrambled to update an ad already on TV, adding the tag line, "Now Endorsed by Des Moines Register."
Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut senator, unveiled new radio ads last week highlighting his endorsement by the Arizona Republic and Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, among others.
Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark had two endorsement ads on radio featuring New York Rep. Charles Rangel and Andrew Young, a civil rights trailblazer and former U.N. ambassador.
Howard Dean has several high-profile backers — former Vice President Al Gore, former Sen. Bill Bradley and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, among them — but none have appeared in TV ads. Aides say they want to keep the focus on the former Vermont governor. Harkin, a four-term senator, however, did a radio spot for Dean in Iowa.
Kerry has used the most endorsements in his advertising. Spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said such spots are important because they include "third-party validators to his candidacy."
Shaheen, the former governor, told New Hampshire voters in a TV commercial late last year that Kerry had "the experience and judgment needed to keep our nation safe." Then, days before Iowa's caucuses, Vilsack, the Iowa governor's wife, boasted in a TV ad of Kerry's Iowa newspaper endorsements.
And just before New Hampshire's Jan. 27 primary, a new Kerry commercial highlighted his endorsement by The (Nashua) Telegraph and The Concord Monitor.
Kerry's latest ad in South Carolina includes praise from Hollings, a World War II veteran and former governor, and Clyburn, a leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Both are influential among two crucial voting blocs — veterans and blacks. Clyburn says Kerry will "bring our country together."