POLS TO THE WALL

Is There an Echo?
What do former Phoenix mayor Paul Johnson and Michigan state senator Debbie Stabenow have in common?

Plenty.
Both are Democrats. Both paint themselves as outsiders bucking special interests. Both--until August 2--hoped to nab their party's gubernatorial nomination and face, in all likelihood, the state's incumbent Republican governor.

And--save a few details--they've used the same TV campaign ad.
One major difference, for now: Stabenow has been defeated.
Stabenow lost Michigan's four-way gubernatorial primary August 2 to former congressman Howard Wolpe. Unlike Johnson, she had been favored to win.

Johnson faces a tough primary on September 13. One recent poll shows him third out of three, but the Johnson campaign has put its faith--and at least $500,000--in television ads. Last week, the first of a package of glossy ads produced by nationally renowned media consultant Joe Slade White debuted on Arizona television stations.

The ad is simple. It's 30 seconds long, featuring a head shot of Johnson, whose hair has been slicked back to give him the innocence of a third grader. The background is a bluish-black curtain, framed in solid black.

He speaks about how he's challenged special interests--both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association--and winds up with: "I'm Paul Johnson. What do special interests have to fear from a 35-year-old husband and father of two young boys?

"Plenty."
Stabenow is also shot head and shoulders against a bluish-black background, framed in solid black. After she talks about special interests, she looks into the camera and says:

"I'm Debbie Stabenow. What do the powerful special interests have to fear from a 44-year-old mom with two teenagers?

"Plenty."
So what does the Johnson campaign have to fear, given that it's using the warmed-over ads of a loser? Nothing, says Johnson campaign spokesman Brian deVallance.

Actually, deVallance admits, he hasn't seen Stabenow's ads; isn't too sure who she is, either. "Isn't she the person who ran in California?" he asks.

When told of the rehash, deVallance is nonchalant. "That doesn't surprise me too much," he says. "But I do think you'll like the next two [Johnson ads]. They're a little more focused on our guy." Joe Slade White, who has a stable of candidates all over the country, could not be reached for comment as to whether he's used the same packaging, message and fill-in-the-blanks script for other clients. DeVallance points out that Terry Goddard, another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, uses the same pollster as Michigan's Stabenow--a Washington, D.C.-based firm named Mellman, Lazarus and Lake. Goddard spokesperson Susan Segal responds, "Paul Johnson's advertising campaign is symbolic of the way he has run his race. His ads are a lot of bluster and little substance. Most people don't recycle other people's political ads, particularly those of losers. "Mellman, Lazarus and Lake are excellent pollsters, and they're used nationwide by a number of winning candidates," Segal adds, "but I don't think they recycle their numbers." @sub:We'd Prefer Wild Turkey

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eddie Basha is apparently desperate to capture the media's attention. Last month, he sent out a letter addressed to "All Reporters, Editors, Columnists, Television and Radio Anchors and Hosts." A tea bag (smells like Lipton) was stapled to the letter, which begins: "They say that people are like tea bags, you never know how strong they are until they get into hot water. I don't know that I am in hot water, but my cup has been full with the gubernatorial campaign."

The letter goes on to assure news types that Basha is accessible, just in case anybody wants to interview him. It includes the home, work and mobile-phone numbers for campaign manager Rick DeGraw, press secretary Pam Kleckner and Basha himself, with the proviso that the numbers were to be used by journalists on deadline who needed to reach the Basha campaign to avoid hot water themselves.

We're guessing the response has been tepid.

Cosmetic Solutions
Congressional District 1 candidate Susan Bitter Smith hosted one of the most unusual fund raisers of the political season. Bitter Smith--a Republican cable-television exec--shared the spotlight with soap star and former Phoenician Jamie Lyn Bauer and Bauer's husband, makeup artist Jeremy Swan, at a fund raiser at Shemer Art Center on East Camelback.

Bauer plays Laura Horton on Days of Our Lives, but the big draw at the $50-a-pop event wound up being Swan, who does the makeup for Fox's steamy new Melrose Place spin-off, Models Inc. Quite a crowd gathered to watch Swan perform a makeover on one of Bitter Smith's campaign volunteers. (Bitter Smith also got a makeover, but it was done privately before the event.)

The original plan was to illustrate the candidate's compassion for the little people by having a makeover done on a homeless woman who was looking for a job. But there were a couple of glitches. First, Bitter Smith and company decided it might be tacky to service the disadvantaged at an event catered by Richardson's. So Swan offered to remake a homeless woman privately, away from the fund raiser.

The next problem: finding a willing victim--er, volunteer. Bitter Smith contacted the East Valley's Family Emergency Service Shelter, but there were no female residents looking for jobs.

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