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California Political Opponents Employ Web Animation

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Here in California the television airwaves are inundated with ads for and against Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's ballot initiatives on next Tuesday's ballot. The campaigns are also using a relatively new medium to get their messages out: Internet animation. Tamara Keith, of member station KPCC, reports.

TAMARA KEITH reporting:

Internet animations made a big splash during the presidential campaign last year with the non-partisan JibJab cartoon featuring a singing President Bush and Senator Kerry.

(Soundbite from Jib Jab cartoon)

`President Bush' and `Senator Kerry': (Singing) This land will surely vote for me.

KEITH: Now the ads are making their way into state politics. In California, the governor's campaign has one. So do his opponents, like this one made by a consumer watchdog group teamed up with some Hollywood producers.

(Soundbite from Internet animation)

`Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger': Hey, there, I have a proposition for you.

KEITH: An animated Arnold Schwarzenegger approaches the California state seal and starts talking up Minerva, the helmeted woman in the seal.

(Soundbite from Internet animation)

`Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger': I want to give you your fair share of the three R's: recovery, reform, re...

MINERVA: Reject.

KEITH: The governor's campaign team was the first to jump into the Internet animation game. Their ad, released early last month, was designed to explain Proposition 75, which would require unions to get permission before using member dues for political purposes.

(Soundbite from Internet animation)

(Soundbite of special effects)

Unidentified Union Boss #1: All right, boys, time to shake down another one.

Unidentified Union Boss #2: Yeah, yeah, fighting reform is expensive.

KEITH: The ad shows two animated union bosses, that look more like cartoon burglars, going to a school to collect money from a teacher. Campaign spokesman, Todd Harris, says most media had been avoiding the complicated issue of union money in the campaign before the animation came out.

Mr. TODD HARRIS (Campaign Spokesman): The next day there were front-page stories in all the newspapers and we found that it was just a very effective way to communicate a political message that maybe the media wouldn't necessarily have focused on had we not packaged it in such a user-friendly way.

KEITH: The Alliance for a Better California is the union group leading the fight against the governor's initiatives. The alliance's Internet ad features a Schwarzenegger caricature driving a Hummer, taking the people of California on a wild ride.

(Soundbite from Internet animation)

(Soundbite of Hummer sounds)

KEITH: Drew Tappan works for the campaign and says ads like this function on a viral communications model. People can e-mail the ad to their friends and they do.

Mr. DREW TAPPAN (Alliance for a Better California): You get something. You think it's funny. You pass it to someone else and they pass it to someone else. They pass it to someone else. So it's sort of a word-of-mouth ad campaign writ large over the Internet instead of just hoping you tune in and catch the ad while you're, you know, cooking dinner or something like that.

KEITH: Political watchers don't know yet how effective these ads are at winning votes, but for the campaigns they're a virtual no-lose proposition. They're generally very cheap to make, certainly a lot cheaper than those live-action TV ads that seem to be running nonstop. For NPR News, I'm Tamara Keith in Sacramento.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.