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How A Barking Dog Is Turning The Nc Senate Race Negative


There are a few things that are interesting about this. First is the "fibber Kay" reference. No one seems to be able to trace the nickname, or the "they" who allegedly have attached it to Hagan. Dole spokesperson Hogan Gidley told me Friday that the campaign didn't coin the title, but he didn't point to an exact origin, either. "We hear her called that on the campaign trail pretty frequently ... [from] people who have seen her advertisements and who have heard her speak," Gidley said. "When you tell that many fibs, something like that is bound to stick." The fibs she tells, he added, are about Dole's record on issues like immigration and the 2004 tobacco buyout. (Gidley also insisted that despite calling Hagan a liar, the spot isn't an attack ad. The Hagan camp strongly disagrees.)

Second is the line, "She tries to turn us against Elizabeth Dole." This sets up the ad's "us vs. them" motif--the "us" being N.C. voters and Dole, the "them" being the Hagan camp. The fence that the dog keeps ramming into seems to be the barrier between the two factions. This divisive motif can best be attributed to the fact that Dole, who won her seat by a 9-point margin in 2002, is in a dead heat with Hagan. Some polls even have Hagan pulling ahead. Dole wants to remind voters whose side they used to be on.

Third is the dog imagery. Ferrell Guillory, director of the Program on Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said that as far as campaign ads go, the dog "does get it out of being just the kind of ordinary, standard-issue thirty-second spot." But what exactly the dog stands for is up for debate. Gidley, Dole's spokesperson, took a long pause when asked what the dog symbolizes, noting slowly that there isn't "a particular image we are trying to portray." Eventually, he explained that it alludes to Hagan's stump persona. "She is out on the campaign trail barking fibs at the audience and telling half-truths and being negative and attacking [Dole] at every step. It's reminiscent of a dog barking, I guess," Gidley said. "Everyone's had to live next to a dog that just barks constantly, and you've heard the phrase 'all bark and no bite,' and Kay Hagan has been barking for a while. But she offers no plans, no bite."

There is another interpretation of the dog, however--one that's even less flattering. Some critics, including some people close to Hagan, have said that in using the dog, the Dole camp is implying that Hagan is whining, or--no way to put it delicately--that she is a bitch.

Gidley dismissed the idea as "just silly." And maybe it is. But why else choose a dog if there isn't a "particular image [they are] trying to portray"?

--Seyward Darby