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Nashville’s first political ad war is coming

The downtown Nashville skyline. (Vanderbilt University)

Nashville is on the cusp of its first serious political advertising war, says Vanderbilt political scientist John Geer.

Vanderbilt Political Science Geer
John Geer (Vanderbilt University)

With ads by four mayoral candidates airing, Geer says to expect many more as the city goes through a rare truly contentious campaign for mayor. Seven legitimate candidates are in the mix.

“It’s an unorthodox way to think about how the city has arrived,” Geer says. “You can see it in the professionalization of Nashville’s politics. We have a bunch of good candidates and they’ve got highly skilled people working with them because this job matters.”

Four candidates – Charles Robert Bone, Bill Freeman, Linda Eskind Rebrovick and Jeremy Kane – already have ads. Candidates Megan Barry, David Fox and Howard Gentry have yet to air an ad.

Geer rates Bone’s ad – which sports a country music jingle that mentions various Nashville neighborhoods – as the best so far.

“It’s the most creative,” Geer says. “It’s thematic. It’s a nice package and it has people talking.”

Ads are particularly important in the Nashville mayoral campaign, which culminates on Election Day Aug. 6, because all of the candidates are in need of more name recognition, Geer says.

“The best-known candidate right now is Megan Barry, but even she has just 20 or 25 percent name recognition,” Geer says. “There’re going to be three to four candidates at least who have enough money to get in the advertising game on television in a serious way. [lquote]The amount of money that will be spent over the length of time it will be spent will be unprecedented.”[/lquote]

Typically, the ads would turn negative as the campaign wears on. But that probably won’t happen until some of the candidates start to pull away from the pack, Geer says.

“It’s hard to go super-negative when you have a multi-candidate race with all candidates being viable,” Geer says. “Because when you go one-on-one with the attacks, the person who is not being attacked winds up the beneficiary.”

Although watching the ads may get tedious for voters, Geer says an ad war is beneficial for the campaign.

“[rquote]We should not be dreading an ad war[/rquote],” Geer says. “This is a good thing for the city, because it will contain a lot of information for voters to digest. You’ll get a sense of the quality of the candidates.

“When people say they’re sick of ads, it doesn’t mean they aren’t influential.”

Geer, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science and vice provost for academic and strategic affairs, is the author of In Defense of Negativity, a study of negative advertising in presidential campaigns from 1960 to 2004. He asserts that attack ads are far more likely than positive ads to focus on salient political issues, rather than politicians’ personal characteristics.