Hil­lary played nice with Bernie. Will that help her bat­tle Don­ald?

▶▶Clinton had it easy in the pri­mary, but that’s about to change ▶▶“We’ve never seen a con­trast like this be­fore”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - CONTENTS - Joshua Green and Tim Hig­gins

On June 7, Hil­lary Clinton and Bernie San­ders con­cluded what had be­come, by the end, a con­tentious Demo­cratic presidential pri­mary. As the race wore on, the can­di­dates grew more ag­gres­sive in speeches, in de­bates, and on Twit­ter. San­ders in par­tic­u­lar crit­i­cized Clinton’s hawk­ish­ness and sym­pa­thy to­ward Wall Street, at­tacks am­pli­fied by the me­dia. But this an­i­mos­ity was en­tirely ab­sent from one im­por­tant realm. Ac­cord­ing to Kan­tar Me­dia, Clinton and San­ders aired 206,528 spots be­tween them this year—and not one was deemed “neg­a­tive” by the an­a­lysts in Kan­tar’s Cam­paign Me­dia Anal­y­sis Group (CMAG). “In an open presidential pri­mary, this is prob­a­bly un­prece­dented,” says El­iz­a­beth Wil­ner, se­nior vice president for po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing at Kan­tar. In­deed, Don­ald Trump, the pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, faced roughly $62 mil­lion in at­tack ads dur­ing the pri­maries. Most of the spots were aired by fel­low Repub­li­cans. “We’ve never seen a con­trast like this be­fore,” says Wil­ner.

Repub­li­can strate­gists hope this dis­par­ity in at­tacks will re­dound to their ben­e­fit. Clinton’s un­fa­vor­a­bil­ity rat­ings are only some­what bet­ter than Trump’s, even though she faced no neg­a­tive ads from San­ders. (GOP cam­paigns and su­per PACs did fea­ture her in a few ads.) Repub­li­cans be­lieve they can in­flict more dam­age. “Peo­ple think she has these re­ally high neg­a­tives, but in re­al­ity no­body has laid a glove on her yet,” says Sean Spicer, chief strate­gist for the Repub­li­can National Com­mit­tee. “Once you see a full-fledged ad cam­paign to re­in­force her neg­a­tives, she’ll have a lot fur­ther to fall.”

The strange truce in the Demo­cratic pri­mary was due to a cou­ple of quirks. San­ders doesn’t be­lieve in at­tack ads. The clos­est he came was a com­mer­cial that briefly flashed an im­age of Clinton’s name in a news­pa­per head­line and aired only in South Carolina. And Clinton ini­tially felt she didn’t need to bother at­tack­ing San­ders. Later on, it be­came clear that she couldn’t af­ford to—she’ll need to win over his sup­port­ers to beat Trump. “While run­ning neg­a­tive spots tends to be more ef­fec­tive

“It’s dif­fi­cult for an op­po­nent to de­fine some­one who’s al­ready so well-known as a can­di­date.” ——Obama 2008 strate­gist Ben LaBolt

than peo­ple like to ad­mit, it also drives up your own can­di­date’s neg­a­tives,” says Ben LaBolt, a strate­gist on Barack Obama’s 2008 cam­paign. “Given where Clinton is right now in terms of fa­vor­a­bil­ity rat­ing, it’s not a sur­prise that she didn’t run neg­a­tive spots against San­ders dur­ing the pri­mary.” That could help Clinton as she tries to win San­ders vot­ers. The ab­sence of neg­a­tive ads is a marked shift from 2008, when Obama spent $58 mil­lion on pri­mary ads, while Clinton spent $33 mil­lion. Although CMAG didn’t mea­sure sen­ti­ment that year, both can­di­dates aired neg­a­tive spots. The most iconic was a Clinton ad bor­ing in on Obama’s lack of executive ex­pe­ri­ence. “It’s 3 a.m., and your chil­dren are safe and asleep,” a nar­ra­tor in­tones over im­ages of slum­ber­ing kids. “But there’s a phone in the White House, and it’s ring­ing. Some­thing’s hap­pen­ing in the world. Your vote will de­cide who an­swers that call.”

The force­ful­ness of the 3 a.m. ad tem­po­rar­ily up­ended the race. “We ac­tu­ally only spent $50,000 on air­time,” says Mark Penn, the ad’s cre­ator and Clinton’s chief strate­gist in 2008. But it got picked up by ca­ble news chan­nels, and that “set off a whole de­bate” about who would bet­ter han­dle a foreign cri­sis, Penn says.

The hit on Obama came in the form of a tele­vi­sion ad be­cause po­lit­i­cal strate­gists have his­tor­i­cally avoided let­ting can­di­dates de­liver such at­tacks for fear it would poi­son their im­age. “It’s odd that the can­di­dates them­selves are now car­ry­ing the most neg­a­tive mes­sages,” says Penn. “It used to be, you left that for the ads.” One rea­son for the change is Trump, who’s demon­strated that the me­dia is now far more apt to pick up at­tacks made by the can­di­dates.

While Clinton hasn’t yet faced the full blast of Trump’s ad­ver­tis­ing on­slaught, Demo­cratic strate­gists claim that her free pass in the pri­maries doesn’t leave her vul­ner­a­ble. “It’s dif­fi­cult for an op­po­nent to de­fine some­one who’s al­ready so well-known as a can­di­date,” says LaBolt.

What’s more, says Mark Longabaugh, a se­nior adviser and me­dia con­sul­tant to the San­ders cam­paign, tough ads dur­ing the pri­maries can crip­ple a nom­i­nee in the fall: “Af­ter a lot of years in this busi­ness, let me tell you, it is al­ways bet­ter go­ing into a general elec­tion when you do not have a lot of dam­age from pri­mary ads be­ing run against you.” Mitt Rom­ney’s ex­pe­ri­ence in 2012 is a good il­lus­tra­tion. Repub­li­can pri­mary op­po­nents such as Newt Gin­grich and Rick Perry branded him a “vul­ture cap­i­tal­ist,” an at­tack Obama picked up and used to de­feat him. An even bet­ter ex­am­ple is Bob Dole. “Dole limped into the ’96 elec­tion ex­tremely dam­aged,” says Longabaugh. “Steve Forbes just car­pet-bombed him in the Ari­zona pri­mary and in Iowa, and [Bill] Clinton ended up win­ning both in the fall. It’s a tan­gi­ble ex­am­ple of how the dam­age car­ries over.”

By this mea­sure, Trump is the more vul­ner­a­ble can­di­date head­ing into the fall. And Clinton has al­ready be­gun to press the at­tack on his fit­ness for office first raised by his Repub­li­can pri­mary op­po­nents. On June 6, af­ter Trump at­tacked the Mex­i­can an­ces­try of Gon­zalo Curiel, the judge over­see­ing a civil case against him in­volv­ing Trump Univer­sity, Clinton’s cam­paign pro­duced a neg­a­tive ad. It fea­tured a suc­ces­sion of crit­ics who all shared one thing in com­mon. As Clinton her­self tweeted: “.@re­al­don­aldtrump’s big­oted com­ments about a Latino judge are so dis­gust­ing, even other Repub­li­cans are of­fended.”

The bot­tom line Democrats hope the ab­sence of neg­a­tive ads from San­ders dur­ing the pri­maries will put Clinton in a stronger po­si­tion to face Trump.

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