Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been among the presidential candidates seeking to woo younger voters with online contests. But their latest commercials address an issue dear to senior citizens, who are far more likely to vote. That issue: Social Security.
And the messages in these dueling commercials are very different.
Hillary the Defender
Hillary Clinton's ad is running in Iowa and New Hampshire. As still photos are shown of Hillary with older people – seemingly age 70 to 340 — in hospitals and retirement homes, a voiceover says:
When George Bush threatened to privatize Social Security, Hillary was there, fighting every step of the way to stop him.
The black and white pictures recall the Depression-era photographs by Walker Evans.
In one photo, a frail woman lifts her hand to Sen. Clinton's face. The voiceover:
She's still there, fighting to stop long-term insurance scams that prey upon the elderly.
Got that? The narrator says twice that Clinton will fight. She's a warrior against people who prey upon the elderly, including scammers and President Bush. The ad promises Clinton won't let bad things happen to the vulnerable. It ends:
These days, it seems like every candidate on Earth is coming here for you. But which candidate has been there for you all along?
Obama the Problem-Solver
Well there is another candidate: Clinton's Senate colleague Barack Obama is running a TV ad in Iowa. His pitch is more cerebral, less visceral. He's standing in shirtsleeves with a microphone in what looks like a library wing. He's surrounded by attentive voters in their 50s and 60s, and he warns:
If we have failed to have a real, honest conversation about Social Security, it will not get fixed.
Well, that doesn't sound good. A caption says he'll protect benefits, prevent the privatization of Social Security and make the wealthy pay more in Social Security taxes. But Obama suggests a larger point:
I don't want to just put my finger out to the wind to see what the polls say; I want to bring the country together to solve a problem.
The man sees a problem, and he'll bring us together to solve it. What's more, he's cluing you in here. Hey, this guy won't pander — he'll speak tough truths.
Unlike certain people, including, presumably, one Hillary Clinton, who offers few details on her plans for Social Security.
"They're portraying [Clinton] as part of the old guard — and so not able to really envision anything in the future that pushes some of these ideas forward," says Jennifer Borda, an assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire who studies political rhetoric.
Borda says Obama is appealing to the elderly with his on-screen promises, but is also seeking somewhat younger voters who may have fears about the program's solvency.
"I think he can kind of have it both ways with that ad," she says.
The funny thing is, the two candidates aren't that far apart, to the extent we can tell.
Borda says that Clinton is being careful not to provide Republicans with fodder by giving too many specifics.
"So I think you're seeing her become a little bit more broad, a little more general, a little bit more bipartisan," Borda says.
But by playing it safe for the general election, Clinton also risks appearing like she's taking Democratic voters for granted — a good two months before the first primary.