Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Attack ads woo undecided

Expect many as Oct. 4 vote draws near

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A big hand clasps her mouth and another holds her shoulder down. The man's thumbnail we see has dirt under it.

Her blue eyes aren't so much filled with terror as with sadness -- the sadness of 12 years of NDP rule in Manitoba.

The Progressive Conservative mailbox stuffer is landing in homes throughout south Winnipeg as part of the party's election pledge to clamp GPS-equipped anklets to high-risk sex offenders when they're released from jail.

A Winnipeg woman said the brochure is nothing more than a cheap play on parents' fears for their kids' safety.

"I don't know why any politician thinks it's necessary to expose her to an image of a grimy child molester holding a little girl hostage," Laura Bordush said in an email about her young daughter seeing the brochure. "Why are they sending these disgusting pictures to homes with innocent children?

"Kids are exposed to enough scary and sad things in the world, they don't need politicians drawing their attention to this."

The brochure is one example of what Manitobans will see in their mailboxes and on TV in the last week of the election campaign before we vote Oct. 4.

University of Manitoba political scientist Paul Thomas said shock or attack ads are aimed at the high number of voters who are undecided. One poll released Monday said that number could be as high as 19 per cent. When the NDP and PCs are running so close, every vote matters, Thomas said.

But the ad has to resonate -- gratuitous ones can backfire.

Tory campaign manager Marni Larkin said the Tory brochure is finding a willing audience, and the PCs have not had any complaints about it.

"The fact of the matter is it's a serious problem," Larkin said Monday. "People are not feeling comfortable sending their children to the park. People are not feeling comfortable letting their kids walk to school alone.

"Nowadays, the majority of parents drive their kids to school because they're not comfortable with what's going to happen to them on the way. It's not just this issue (sex offenders); it's gang violence, it's bullying, it's a number of things."

Random sexual offences against children are rare -- most children are molested by someone they know.

Larkin also said the PCs have as many as four TV attack ads ready to be unleashed, depending whether they think they're needed. Some or all may never see the light of day.

The NDP shot a bunch of TV ads before the campaign started and taped more since then, responding to various issues that have cropped up during the election, campaign manager Michael Balagus said Monday.

In a provocative NDP ad dubbed "Hugh McFadyen's job interview," actors portraying job interviewers say McFadyen wears a "nice suit," but "what he says doesn't match his resumé." Later, an actor says choosing McFadyen for the job wouldn't be worth the risk, one of the slogans of the NDP campaign.

Balagus said the NDP is deciding which ads will be most effective. It may also decide to go back to some it aired earlier in the campaign.

"For us, at this point in time, it's what ads are going to most motivate voters to get out and vote. That's what we're going to be measuring," Balagus said.

As for the Tory pamphlet, Balagus called it "disgusting."

"I'm glad we're the ones running a negative campaign," he said, ironically, responding to past Tory criticism. "That was unbelievable," he said of the pamphlet.

On Sunday, the NDP filmed a new ad with the same cheeky vibe as the "Hugh McFadyen job interview" commercial. This ad features McFadyen at a woman's front door, holding flowers and chocolates in an attempt to woo her vote. The commercial may never run, but if it does, it's expected to hit the airwaves by midweek.


-- With files from Larry Kusch and Mary Agnes Welch

Campaign shifts

THE last full week of the election campaign will see the NDP and PCs shift volunteers, phone callers and canvassers into key ridings, which may provide a hint about which seats the parties feel are likely to switch.

The NDP does this particularly effectively, and will likely move volunteers to ridings such as Riel and Southdale. The poll cats -- the team of young canvassers who blitz ridings -- already have been to Dawson Trail, a tight race on Winnipeg's southern border.

Progressive Conservatives are feeling confident about Kirkfield Park, St. Norbert and Seine River, and have made significant progress at the door and in the sign war in the last two weeks.

But NDP insiders are also feeling confident, especially about the urban ridings.

Premier Greg Selinger has already spent far more time outside the Perimeter Highway than any other leader and is heading to Island Lake to campaign on the area's First Nations reserves Thursday.

Selinger has made no fewer than seven promises and appearances in Brandon since the writ was dropped three weeks ago and has made roughly a half-dozen campaign stops in the Interlake. He's been to Swan River and Dauphin -- two ridings the party is desperate to hold onto -- almost as often.

Meanwhile, McFadyen has focused almost all his attention in a half-dozen Winnipeg ridings. He's made public stops in Assiniboia, Riel and Southdale no fewer than four times each and has only made a couple of forays into Brandon and western Manitoba, where there are at least four seats in play. That suggests the Tories believe they are likely to take those rural ridings and must focus their leader's attention on suburban Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 27, 2011 A6

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