DATELINE: ST. PAUL - October 25, 2000, Wednesday
Over dinner with a confidant of Gov. Jesse Ventura, a little-known statehouse candidate devised a provocative ad strategy that tests the limit - one few politicians would dare duplicate.
In Cy Thao's home-spun spot, the broom-carrying Independence Party candidate promises to clean up St. Paul and "kick the (expletive) out of career politicians" in the process. The expletive, of course, is bleeped out.
But "Cy the Cleaner" and two shorter ads break the mold - exactly what Thao and Ventura consultant Doug Friedline were shooting for to boost Thao's longshot bid to unseat seven-term DFL Rep. Andy Dawkins of St. Paul. The GOP candidate is Fred Tennison.
"Just about every other commercial out there is pretty much the same," Thao said. "It doesn't have to be boring. We want people to be entertained."
For now, Thao's commercials are running solely on cable. But his campaign has purchased time on a few network stations for next week, although his tiny budget forced him to buy slots that can be preempted.
His ads were put together by local producers Noel Lee and Va Megn Thoj and filmed using Thao's friends as talent.
The main TV spot shows a girl skipping down a dark street, when she is approached by a suit-wearing man who tells her, "Why don't you waste a vote on a career politician?" She runs off, sees another man breaking into a house and eventually seeks comfort and words of wisdom from a bearded man in sunglasses.
He tells her: "Legend says that when there's times like these, someone will rise up and clean up this town."
A smiling Thao enters and proclaims he's "at your service."
From there, the ad takes the pace of an action film. One scene shows Thao chasing the vote-seeking politician, who this time is without pants, into a trash bin. The 30-second spot ends with Thao scaling the Capitol steps and raising his arms - and broom - to the censored slogan.
Independence Party leaders, like Dean Barkley, say the ads are a reflection of the high-energy campaign run by the Hmong community activist and former legislative intern.
"Cy has impressed me," Barkley said. "There's no one that's going to be outhustled or outworked ... he won't lose for lack of effort and creativity."
Said party Chairman Rick McCluhan: "Cy's got a chance. And the way he's going to capitalize on his chance is to mobilize all these people that haven't voted before."
Thao is banking on the votes of his peers. But he said only about 600 of the district's 5,000 Hmong are registered. His Web site contains information in Hmong and English.
On Election Day, he'll be shuttling people to the polls in his lime-green bus.
Until then, he's getting high-powered help. Ventura frequently heaps praise on him and literally embraces Thao in another of his ads.
"Andy (Dawkins) is going to be surprised how well Cy does," McCluhan said.
On the Net: http://www.cythao.com