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Illinois Candidate Seeks Attention With Humor - 2002-03-16

Several U.S. states are holding primary elections this month, in which voters will decide who runs for various offices in general elections in November. In the United States, election season means the airwaves are saturated with political advertising. In the Chicago area, one candidate is trying to make his ads stand apart from the rest.

Most political advertisements list a candidate's strengths - leadership, integrity - while others criticize the candidate's opponent. This is an ad for Republican Jim Ryan, who is running for governor of Illinois.

But one Republican running for state attorney general, suburban Chicago attorney Bob Coleman, is taking a different approach to his ads: humorous. In this ad, Mr. Coleman pokes fun at the cliché of baby-kissing politicians. He is shown holding one child after another, all of whom cry. One vomits on him.

Mr. Coleman has never held elective office, and until his attorney general campaign, relatively few people in the Chicago area had heard of him.

Professor Clarke Caywood heads the integrated marketing program at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, near Chicago. He says offbeat or humorous ads can quickly help a candidate with little name recognition become better-known. "So if you run an ad that has humorous value, then you get "double whammy" [twice the benefit]: You get the time that it is shown on the evening news [as a commercial] and the audience rating there, and if it gets shown on the news as a funky [unusual] example of advertising, then you get it played a second time," he says.

Not everyone is laughing at Mr. Coleman's ads. DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett is running against Mr. Coleman for the Republican nomination for attorney general. "I don't find the business of the attorney general's office funny," he says.

Mr. Coleman says he doesn't find the office funny, either, but is willing to poke a little fun at himself for his lack of political experience. "I am not afraid to have a little laugh, and certainly not afraid to have a little laugh on myself," he says.

In addition to the advertisements, Mr. Coleman has appeared with Mr. Birkett for several debates. In those appearances, Mr. Coleman is much more serious about his view of the attorney general's office.

Professor Caywood of the Medill School of Journalism says no one gets elected solely by running humorous advertisements. "It is about the direct mail; it is about the personal appearances; it is about the efforts to get your message out through the news media. The advertising is only a piece of it," he says.

Mr. Coleman trails Mr. Birkett in public opinion polls, although he has closed the gap as he has become better-known. Illinois voters will decide who will head each party's ticket for this contest and a number of others for statewide and federal offices on Tuesday.