Candidates Use Children to Make Final Pitch

Associated Press + More

WASHINGTON — With just days to go before the election, here come the kids.

Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio's children think their dad is a great guy. In Colorado, Sen. Michael Bennet's daughters are so enthused they're hitting the phones to support their dad.

[See who donates the most to Bennet's campaign.]

Candidates who have spent months and millions of dollars slugging it out are replacing attacks ads with gauzy images designed to leave voters with a warm and fuzzy feeling. And what better way to do that than with children?

It's called ending positive, a political tactic practically as old as campaign advertising itself.

"Any negative ads launched late in campaigns are viewed as suspect by voters," said Mark McKinnon, an ad maker for former President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain. "So, the final chapter of campaigns is best served with positive messages that give voters a rationale for your candidacy. And if can throw your kids into the equation, it helps eliminate some of the stink your opponent has been laying on you for months."

Across the country, candidates in both parties have found starring roles for their offspring as supporting actors and verifiers of their family values.

Rubio has spent more than a year swinging hard at Charlie Crist, Florida's Republican-turned-independent governor, portraying him as a flip-flopper who will say anything to get elected. Now, though, Rubio's campaign is working in a whimsical spot that features the candidate's four children playfully talking about Dad.

"He sticks to what he believes in," one of the children says. "Stuff like early bedtimes and no running in the house," another chimes in.

In Colorado, Democrat Bennet has likewise spent millions of dollars calling his opponent, Ken Buck, an extremist. But rather than a line of attack, his latest spot features his daughters on the phone as a narrator notes that "the Bennet girls are working hard to get out the vote for their dad."

[Check out a roundup of political cartoons on Democrats.]

Positive ads featuring children or families serve a double purpose, said Matt Paul, a Democratic consultant. They show the candidate looking forward but also make him look more normal, always a problem at the end of a long, ugly campaign.

"The images you see of candidates at all levels are staged and stiff," Paul said. "They're standing behind a lectern, at a podium at a closely choreographed event. You've got to punch through that and let people see a person."

So, in Pennsylvania, GOP Senate candidate Pat Toomey is hoisting a newborn. It's his third child, he says in the ad, and it reminds him of the future and his responsibility to Pennsylvanians. And in Ohio and Connecticut, it means candidates' daughters are speaking straight to the camera, offering testimonials about the virtues of their moms.

[Check out a roundup of political cartoons on Republicans.]

Political consultants are divided on how well "ending positive" works. No one expects three or four days worth of ads to wipe out months of contentious back and forth. But nearly all campaigns employ the tactic.

As for the children? Even people making these ads are skeptical.

"I think by this stage, the voters are so cynical that they're not swayed by children, first or second wives, whoever is making pitches," said GOP consultant John Weaver. "But you have try to get your negatives back down."