Will Christine O'Donnell be forever branded a witch?
She may, unless she quickly transforms into Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz," which she says she is considering as her Halloween costume.
She could do another campaign ad, featuring her resplendent in a blue-and-white gingham dress and red sparkling shoes while holding a Toto dog. "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?" an off-camera announcer might ask.
"Oh, I'm not a witch at all! I'm Dorothy from Kansas. I mean Christine from Delaware."
Maybe Fred Davis – the GOP's go-to irreverent ad man of the moment who prefers California to Washington – is in a studio somewhere creating that very ad. "I haven't publicly stated this, and I don't know if I'll get in trouble for saying that, but our intention was to kill it [the witch ad], and that's not what happened," O'Donnell said in an interview with "Good Morning, America" on Thursday.
Davis told Politics Daily via e-mail, "The O'Donnell campaign had to rush full speed ahead into a national, major race, when they started from a small, hopeful primary campaign. It's lightning speed each and every second, making every day a challenge. I think they are doing quite well with it!"
Another O'Donnell ad shot in the same "I'm You" vein goes after her Democratic opponent's education. "I didn't go to Yale," she says of Chris Coons, as piano music plays in the background. Why? Because she's just like you. Click play to watch ad:
O'Donnell is spending a lot of money on ads created by Davis. According to O'Donnell's latest FEC reports, O'Donnell paid Davis' Strategic Perception, Inc. $20,000 on Sept. 24 and $179,855 on Sept. 27.
Davis is not cheap. He created California U.S. Senate GOP nominee Carly Fiorina's now-infamous primary ad against Tom Campbell that featured him as a red-eyed demon in sheep's clothing. According to Fiorina's April FEC report, Carly for California, Inc. paid Strategic Perception $230,784. It was during this time that Davis shot the devil sheep ad.
One of Davis' most famous ads prior to this season was "Celebrity," which juxtaposed President Barack Obama against Paris Hilton and Britney Spears as the biggest celebrity in the world during the 2008 presidential campaign. He was the creative guru behind the 2008 Republican National Convention. "I wrote every word in that damn convention," Davis told The Washington Post.
So why does O'Donnell now regret the ad? Did the candidate not have the final word? Did Davis persuade O'Donnell to go forward with it although her gut told her to leave her witchy ways in the past? Maybe she didn't have a choice. After all, Davis told TIME magazine recently in a profile piece, "We never present three or four ideas, and you pick one. We present one."
To witch or not to witch, that was the possible question facing O'Donnell. As the Washington Post wrote last month, "He [Davis] controls every detail of his ad shoots and writes the scripts. He pushes and pleads with his nervous, starchy candidates to try ideas that other strategists would dismiss as too out-there."
The witch ad may have been too out-there, some say. Joe Erwin, president of Erwin-Penland in Greenville, S.C., who has worked in Democratic politics, said the witch ad was a mistake. "By doing this she played on her opponents' turf and played defense with the critics who were essentially mocking her," Erwin said. "When you open an ad with that sentence, you're digging a deeper hole."
Erwin suggested a better way to handle the witch topic was to have responded with "self-deprecating humor, in a way that people would find her more likeable, and understand that the off-handed comments of a college-aged young woman really are not a threat and not representative of who she is now."
Tom De Luca, a political science professor at Fordham University, said the ad underscores all of O'Donnell's negatives, including that she looks young and not ready for prime time. "We want our politicians to be like us, but we want them to be able deal with the world of politics and power," he said. "That doesn't come through in that ad."
But others say many voters liked the ad. Michael Maslansky of maslansky luntz + partners wrote Thursday that history will likely "look positively on her two backlit campaign ads. Aside from her opening line in the first ad, disclaiming her connections to the dark arts, both ads tested strongly with conservatives and independents, and even broke into positive territory with Dems."
The witch ad – perhaps the most memorable of the midterms – helped raise a lot of campaign cash for O'Donnell from around the country. Even Mistress of the Dark Elvira launched her own parody of the ad Thursday afternoon. Christine O'Donnell may not win the Delaware Senate race, but she's certainly become a household name, thanks to Fred Davis.
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