Although the Norquist campaign keeps expecting a TV attack from mayoral challenger George Watts, the main thing Watts goes after in a new ad is a piece of stemware, a vase and other china shop merchandise.
The ad, which begins running Friday, tackles head-on voter questions about why Watts would spend $500,000 of his own money to take on Mayor John O. Norquist in the April 4 election, a race most believe he can't win.
The ad shows Watts in his downtown china shop saying although some think he's throwing his money away, he can't sit idly by while murders increase and jobs leave the city.
As he talks, Watts first smashes a glass on a table, then drops an expensive Kosta-Boda vase to the floor, flips a tiny red teddy bear figurine off a shelf and, before the screen goes dark and a loud crash is heard, is about to tip over a shelf of glassware.
"If I didn't challenge the mayor, we'd all stand to lose a lot more," Watts says in the ad, produced by Steve Eichenbaum, who is best known for the offbeat, humorous ads in U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold's campaigns.
Watts, 77, began his $300,000 final-weeks TV ad push on Monday with a spot filmed at the Milwaukee Public Museum that includes Watts in front of a dinosaur skeleton disputing the notion he's too old to run - "better old than extinct."
Norquist was attending the Mayor's Annual Landscape Awards program Wednesday evening and unavailable to comment on the ad, which Eichenbaum and Watts previewed for the Journal Sentinel. However, Bill Christofferson, Norquist's top campaign adviser, said it's another case of Watts not offering ideas on how to solve the problems he cites.
"This is not a contest for class clown," he said. "This is an election for who will lead the city, who has the ideas and experience to be mayor of Milwaukee. George Watts has failed to answer that question - or maybe he has and it's not him."
The two candidates face off Friday evening in the first - probably only - televised debate of the campaign, at 8 p.m. on WTMJ-TV (Channel 4). From there, the campaign is likely to play out mainly in television and radio ads, probably harsh ones.
A few weeks ago, Norquist challenged Watts to run only positive TV ads with the $300,000 purchase. It was a challenge that rang hollow to some, since the two sides were already attacking each other on radio and since Norquist, on TV since January with his ads, is expected to spend more overall than Watts and could match Watts' spending down the stretch.
Nevertheless, the first two Watts ads have essentially been introductory ones. Eichenbaum said he believes there is time to spark interest in the race and push Watts on to victory.
"I certainly hope so," he said. "It's wonderful and great to do these, but we're here to win."
Watts noted only one piece of merchandise - a $24 glass discounted by 50% in the clearance room - was actually broken. The rest fell on pillows.
"I only got cut on one of them," Watts joked.
Meanwhile, Norquist began running a new radio ad Wednesday slamming Watts for not offering ideas. It uses even sharper humor, as a woman opens the Watts "idea closet" to see what falls out.
The new ad repeats past criticisms, including Watts' support as a gubernatorial candidate for reducing state aid to the city.
Before the ad has the woman picking up an empty box - labeled "Watts ideas for fighting crime, improving schools and bringing jobs" - it says Watts, during his gubernatorial run, opposed an equal pay law for women.
The ad doesn't mention that the race was in 1986, 14 years ago, but says Watts probably changed his mind on it, "like he has on everything else."
Watts said he was opposed to a specific proposal at the time and thought the problem of equal pay was "taking care of itself rapidly." The issue is the latest of several, including Watts' positions on revenue sharing and his once strong push for privatization, the Norquist campaign has pulled from 1986 newspaper clippings.
"I can't believe he is going back that far," said Watts. "You'd think he could find something more current he didn't like about me."
Greg J. Borowski, March 16, 2000, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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