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'Real' people, solutions at heart of GOP ad blitz in Pa.

| Monday, July 27, 2015, 11:15 p.m.
Bob Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, in his Washington office on Wednesday, July 16, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Bob Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, in his Washington office on Wednesday, July 16, 2014.
Robert L. Woodson, Sr. is founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. Woodson, whose social activism dates to the 1960s, helped the media company Opportunity Lives to find people to portray in its documentary 'Comeback' about real-life perseverance. The company's advertising blitz in Ohio and Pennsylvania in advance of the 2016 GOP presidential primary should resonate with many Americanswho are 'thirsty for examples of integrity, dignity and honor,' Woodson said.
Robert L. Woodson, Sr. is founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. Woodson, whose social activism dates to the 1960s, helped the media company Opportunity Lives to find people to portray in its documentary 'Comeback' about real-life perseverance. The company's advertising blitz in Ohio and Pennsylvania in advance of the 2016 GOP presidential primary should resonate with many Americanswho are 'thirsty for examples of integrity, dignity and honor,' Woodson said.

A nearly $1 million online, radio and television advertising blitz in Pennsylvania aims to portray a different side of Republican values than those emphasized by mainstream news media, its developers said Monday.

The ads placed by Opportunity Lives, a Washington-based conservative media company, will run through mid-September to draw attention to “real-life stories” of people who persevere and potential solutions to problems such as poverty without using demonizing rhetoric, said John Hart, editor of the news organization.

“We picked Pennsylvania because it is fertile ground to grow our audience, because you have both traditional conservatives and nontraditional or potential conservatives,” said Hart, a former communications director for former GOP Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

The 11 ads talk about how to build strong communities, health care, family, freedom, the future, growth, education, jobs, energy, the military and national security — and getting government out of the way of those issues, Hart said.

The messages highlight Republican values, he said.

Many news outlets and pundits have focused attention in recent weeks on Donald Trump's unorthodox candidacy for the 2016 GOP nomination for president.

The ads will run in other states, including Ohio, Hart said.

In a time when personal attacks often dominate politics, voters might consider these “Jack Kemp-like ads” refreshing, a throwback to “kinder, gentler times,” said Jeff Brauer, a political scientist at Keystone College in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Kemp was a former professional football player who became a powerhouse in Congress, a Housing secretary and a Republican vice presidential candidate. President Obama posthumously awarded Kemp the Presidential Medal of Freedom in August 2009, three months after his death.

“Many Americans have become disenchanted with the caustic political discourse,” Brauer said. “The ads are a good reminder that politics, at its core, is about solving problems and making people's lives better.”

‎Brauer said the ads are so dramatically different from the norm that people will take notice.

“Unfortunately, attack ads in political campaigns will continue to dominate the American political arena because they have been proven to be quite effective in most cases,” he said.

The approach Opportunity Lives uses to try to rebuild the damaged brand of Republican ideals is a good one, said political scientist Chris Borick of Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

“The party brand itself is about as lowly regarded as it has ever been,” Borick said, adding that it makes sense to put forth a message before the presidential campaign begins in full force. “The Republican base won't cut it in broader turnout elections anymore, and thus these types of rebranding efforts are needed if the GOP wants to win beyond the state and regional level.”

Opportunity Lives in spring produced a seven-part documentary called “Comeback” that focused on inspiring stories provided through the work of civil rights icon Robert L. Woodson Sr., founder of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.

“People are thirsty for examples of integrity, dignity and honor and are looking for a vehicle to provide that,” Woodson told the Tribune-Review.

Hart said his news site is dedicated to showcasing “America's real-life success stories, its doers, reformers, innovators and problem-solvers.”

Woodson, whose social activism dates to the 1960s and 1970s, when he directed the National Urban League's Administration of Justice division,”deserves to be a household name, but he wants to make the model, not himself, famous,” Hart said.

Woodson helped to identify people to include in the documentary, Hart said: “Some of our best stories come from his network of experiences.”

The ads likely will resonate with many Americans, Woodson said.

“My political ideology is radical pragmatism, and I think most Americans are fed up with the combat that masquerades as political debate and information,” he said. “... If conservatism is to prevail, it has to demonstrate that it can through principles that result in better people and better communities. It has to be something you demonstrate.”

Wishy-washy neutrality won't cut it with the American electorate, Woodson said. “Opportunity Lives is trying to take principled positions and communicate in a proactive way, and inspire Americans. Hopefully, they can attract people to pay attention.”

Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at szito@tribweb.com.

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