CHAMPAIGN — It's probably too little too late to make a difference, but independent congressional candidate John Hartman is airing television ads.
Fourteen of them. Some in prime time. All of them on central Illinois' biggest TV outlet, WCIA Channel 3.
Here is the ad on YouTube .
Best of all for Hartman, the spots are free. All because of an apparent billing error at the station in which Rodney Davis, the Republican candidate in the 13th District race, got $14,575 of free advertising.
The station called Hartman and Democrat David Gill and offered each of them $14,575 of free advertising, too.
"We had to shoot it immediately, almost," said Hartman, chief financial officer for a St. Louis medical technology firm.
"I got the call around 4 o'clock Friday and we shot it Saturday morning in Edwardsville," he said. "A friend of a friend whom I had never met came over and shot it for me."
It's about as straightforward a political commercial as has ever been shot: Hartman walking along, looking directly into the camera and delivering a characteristically blunt message.
"If we're really going to be serious about cutting the budget deficit, we all need to have an oar in the water and we all need to be pulling together," he says. "We're going to need cuts in defense spending, cuts in domestic spending. We're going to need to put more money into Social Security and Medicare through higher payroll taxes. And we're going to have to have fewer tax credits and fewer tax deductions."
The commercial isn't as creative or flashy as those of his opponents.
"The videos on my website were shot with a iPhone," Hartman explained. "I asked the guy at the TV station if I could shoot it with an iPhone and he said, 'I don't think you'd like it with an iPhone.' He suggested a digital SLR, so I thought, 'OK, we'll step it up a little bit here.'
"The guy came over from St. Louis and he sat in the back of a pickup truck, and the truck drives along with me talking there. I tried to stay in the frame all the time."
The commercial was shot in a parking lot at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and "took me a bunch of takes, I did badly," Hartman laughed. "The thing that is really tough is that you have to state your message in about 29.5 seconds."
Up until Saturday morning, he wasn't sure what message he'd convey in that 29.5-second gift.
"On Friday night I went to half of a high school football game and went home and just decided what to make it on. I was thinking, Should it be political reform or climate change? I settled on this, something that could be kind of factual, something that would have some immediate context. We rehearsed it a few times and then after several takes we got one that was workable."
They uploaded the video to WCIA on Saturday and the first spot appeared Sunday afternoon — during an NFL football game, no less, a coveted media spot two days before Election Day. Four spots ran Sunday, six appeared Monday and four more were set for Tuesday morning. It also can be viewed online at http://youtu.be/6Jc1QpQNJcq .
Hartman said he's still not certain what happened that gave him free television advertising worth more than $14,000 — a sum almost twice the $7,940 he had raised as of Oct. 17 (against $1.11 million for Davis and $1.05 million for Gill).
"I was told they made an error, that they aired more than (Davis) paid for. I don't know whose fault it was or anything. All I know is that David (Gill) had to be offered the same amount and I had to be offered the same amount," Hartman said. No one from WCIA returned a call to confirm the story.