Off the Air 

Fulton pulls negative TV ad

Fulton pulls negative TV ad

Dick Fulton’s campaign has pulled the first negative TV ad of the mayor’s race after a five-day run. But Fulton’s man behind the curtain—strategist Bill Fletcher—is warning of more to come.

The unapologetic Fletcher says the ad was taken off the air only because it “ran its course.” He hints that more mudballs will fly before the Aug. 5 election.

“Nobody should have any illusions about this race,” Fletcher says. “Dick Fulton’s in this race to win.”

The commercial depicted one rival, Bill Purcell, as a criminal coddler, and hit another, Vice Mayor Jay West, for taking undue credit for Mayor Phil Bredesen’s successes. West says he’s unlikely to go negative in response.

“Negative ads are vintage Dick Fulton and vintage Bill Fletcher,” West says. “I’ve seen Dick Fulton run negative ads when he ran for mayor years ago and when he ran for governor. I’ve seen Bill Fletcher engage in negative advertising during the campaigns he’s managed. This does not surprise me at all. That’s their typical MO.”

West says he thinks times have changed. “Quite frankly, my mother called me and said, ‘We’re not going to do this are we?’ I’ve got my mama to answer to. She’s going to be the toughest critic.”

The ad superimposed a red bandanna on a photo of Purcell. The voiceover said Purcell was characterizing himself as a “Rambo” on crime, but actually voted in the Legislature against some get-tough bills. (Purcell has since succeeded in getting prosecutors and police officers to debunk the notion.)Meanwhile, in criticizing West, the ad essentially repeated the very message West’s campaign is trying to propagate—that the vice mayor is saying he’s been right there with Bredesen on the biggest issues of the last eight years.

There are two prime theories about why Fulton’s campaign ran the first negative ad of the race to replace Bredesen. Either Fulton is trying to boost enough support to avoid a September runoff—which would require a clear majority of votes Aug. 5—or his own poll numbers show his support is slipping.

Two other theories go like this: First, that such negative advertising turns off voters, something that leads to a low-voter turnout. A supposed front-runner like Fulton, who has high name recognition, would theoretically benefit from anemic turnout at the polls. The second theory is that the Fulton campaign wanted to help reiterate West’s message, which would promote the vice mayor to the runoff with Fulton. That, the theory continues, would be a more desirable situation from the former mayor’s point of view because the differences between him and West aren’t as stark as they are between him and Purcell.

Fulton himself told the Scene last week, in making the point about the stylistic differences between the three major candidates, that he is much more “low-key” than Purcell.

As for the on-the-record explanation for why Fulton went on the attack, Fletcher says the campaign isn’t going to stand still in the face of “distortions” about his candidate. Asked why the commercial doesn’t specifically address the so-called “distortions,” Fletcher says, “We weren’t trying to answer the specific distortions. The message we wanted to send is that if they persist in that route, there will be a price to pay for it.”

The only real attack against Fulton has come from Purcell. During televised forums, he has criticized Fulton for decreasing the percentage of education spending in the Metro budget during his three terms as mayor.

The first time Purcell made the reference—which can, in fact, be supported by data—he criticized Fulton by name. The TV ad followed shortly thereafter declaring that Purcell is “personally” attacking Fulton. Another such reference by Purcell, during a televised debate last weekend, omitted Fulton’s name but alluded to the years Fulton served as mayor. “You’ll notice Purcell did not attack us at the debate the other night,” Fletcher gloats.

To reach Liz, call her at 244-7989, ext. 406 or e-mail her at

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