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Campaign Ads 2010: The Good, the Bad and the Funny

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More than $4 billion will be spent on the 2010 midterm elections -- the lion's share of it on advertising on television, radio, and even a bit on the Internet. But what are we getting for all that money? Thanks to recent Supreme Court decisions, congressional campaign finance reform efforts that backfired, the cynicism of outside special interest groups, reckless challengers and frightened incumbents, mostly what we've gotten is a barrage of negativity that has dismayed even the most veteran observers.

While some champions of good manners tout the virtues of "the civilogue," the midterm mudslinging goes on unabated, most of it on the airwaves. True, this is a familiar lament every two years. But the cornucopia of attack ads in 2010 is not imaginary, and is reflective of a sour mood among the electorate, the close competitiveness of the struggle between the two major parties, and the sheer volume of the money being spent.

"When the economy is bad and things are not going well, candidates are not out there talking about how great things are," says Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group. So what's a candidate to do in this anti-Washington, anti-incumbent campaign? "They are left," Tracey says, "with one option -- to talk about their opponent."

Yet it's not all incivility and character assassination out there. If you look, there are positive ads, some of them quite clever. Humor can still be effective, especially in campaign-produced-videos, which sometimes are posted directly on YouTube by the campaigns. At Politics Daily we identified examples -- bipartisan, of course -- of all three styles. And so, with all due respect to Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach, here are our 2010 finalists in the categories of The Good, the Bad and the Funny.


Sarah Palin and Her "Mama Grizzlies." There's a reason this slogan became famous -- it's an effective rallying cry for conservative women. "Moms kinda just know when something's wrong," Palin says in her distinctive voice. "Here in Alaska I always think of the mama grizzly bears who rise up on their hind legs when somebody's coming to attack their cubs. . . . You don't wanna mess with the mama grizzlies."

EMILY's List Mama Grizzlies Rebuttal. Disproving stereotypes about humor-challenged feminists, the liberal organization responded with an ad that is simultaneously light-hearted -- it features women dressed up with bear faces -- while also being a staunch argument for liberal positions being the rational ones.

Florida State Rep. Mike Weinstein's Rap Video. Even most Floridians never heard of Weinstein, a Republican state legislator from the Jacksonville area until a video produced by (and staring) his son Leigh went viral. "My goal was to try to come up with a campaign ad that wasn't attacking anyone or being negative," Mike Weinstein explained. He certainly succeeded.

John Hickenlooper in the "Shower" Ad. "I can't stand negative ads," says Colorado's Democratic gubernatorial nominee. "Every time I see one I feel I need to take a shower." With that – Hickenlooper, the current mayor of Denver, actually steps into the shower with his clothes on. It's a funny ad with a serious message -- and an ending quip.


Kentucky Democrat Jack Conway's "Aqua Buddha" Ad. In this salacious spot, Republican and senatorial candidate Rand Paul is accused of belonging to a secret society in college "that called the Holy Bible a hoax" and of once tying up a woman and telling her he worshiped a God named "Aqua Buddha." The "hoax" angle is essentially fabricated, and the incident with the woman was a college hazing prank among friends that happened 30 years ago. Instead of hurting Rand Paul, the ad apparently backfired on Conway.

Carly Fiorina's "Demon Sheep" Ad. Everyone who knows him thinks moderate Republican Tom Campbell is smart and decent. By the time Fiorina's imaginative political consultant Fred Davis got done with him during the Senate primary in California, Campbell was Satan's spawn -- in sheep's clothing. Davis also did the high-risk ("I am not a witch," ad for Christine O'Donnell, spot that even the controversial Delaware Senate candidate now thinks would have worked better without the first five words.)

Abe Lincoln Ad by Alabama Republican Rick Barber. In this ad, the tea party favorite running in the Republican primary in Alabama's second congressional district compares the health care overhaul to slavery. That alone made it one of the most over-the-top ads of the year, but when Barber added a picture showing the notorious gates at Auschwitz, he earned the dubious distinction of airing one of the most offensive ads ever. (Barber lost in the primary to Martha Roby.)

Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson's "Taliban Dan" Ad. This spot, an attack on Daniel Webster, a conservative Republican challenging Grayson in Florida's 8th congressional district, might be the most dishonest ad of the year (although a previous Grayson ad claiming -- inaccurately -- that Webster was a draft dodger would also be in the running. As pointed out by Politifact, the "Taliban Dan" spot uses a snippet from a 2009 Webster speech to a religious men's group in which his quote is doctored so that he's heard telling women, "Submit to me." Actually, Webster was making the exact opposite point.


Jerry Brown, "The Most Interesting Man in California" Ad. "When reporters interview him they are known to get lost in his piercing brown eyes." Jerry Brown also is said to have once balanced the budget "with only a stern look" and coached the L.A. Lakers on the weekends. The "Stay Jerry, My Friends" spoof is based on the campy Dos Equis campaign, and it had all the political world talking, and laughing along with him.

Dan Freilich's "Old Spice" Parody. Freilich, a physician in the Naval Reserve ran in the Democratic primary against Sen. Patrick Leahy and received only 11 percent of the vote. Now he's running as an independent, and aficionados of humorous ads are glad he did. But Freilich is actually a serious guy who favors public financing of campaigns, single-payer health and senators who accept no special interest money.

Call Me, Senator: Anti-Barbara Boxer Ad. This negative spot was produced by David Zucker, a rare Hollywood conservative, and it turns a real moment in the Senate career of Barbara Boxer into an absurd and hilarious send-up.

China in 2030 Ad by Citizens Against Government Waste. This powerful one-minute commercial is reminiscent tonally of the great Apple Computer ads of years gone by. A call for fiscal prudence, the ad is done in Chinese with subtitles, and features a Chinese professor talking to Chinese business students. Observant commentators have noticed that the ad copy doesn't really reflect how China runs its own economy, but the spot has a punch line that is both humorous and ominous: "Now they work for us."
Filed Under: Sarah Palin

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love the rick barber commercial.the truth shall set u free !!

November 02 2010 at 3:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My favorite ad was a clever use of Meg Whitman's ad declaring she and her husband moved to California in 1980 because of its vibrant economy and excellent schools. Jerry Brown used that to point out that he was governor when she moved to California. LOL

November 02 2010 at 11:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to tjcnopops2's comment

My favorite also.

November 11 2010 at 2:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mr Wonderful

What about Rick Scott's TV Ads, they would make Joe McCarthy blush. Rick is running for Gov of Florida and his compaign is based on hate, his hate of the President. If this theif gets elected he won't be in office long before he get's caught breaking some law. Our new "tricky Dick"

November 02 2010 at 5:58 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

You Americans are full of baloney, your country is dead it has been like this ever since the dollar lost it to the euro; just deal with it your not the world's roof anymore, and the last video is already true, I mean look at China right now, do you see them struggling with the recession? I don't no it not my right to criticize you all, after all my country isn't doing any better either, so we're practically on the same chapter. But one thing is certain, you really did live a careless life for too long, spending more money that you own and I'm sorry to say this, but you brought it on your self's. And no I'm not against the US, not a terrorist, or what ever you may think right now. Wish you best of luck! :)

November 02 2010 at 5:16 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

We've seen the ads and many are downright hilarious... some of the remarks in this column are still trying to defend the Obama administration. That shows they don't want the truth and can't except the truth and the facts. We must reign in the reckless spending in congress & the jobless 10-17%. Wise up you liberals and independants you can be the real heros if you vote for truth and not party. Today is a vote in favor of conservatism and truth.

November 02 2010 at 4:09 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

I think every politician who promises one thing to get votes and DOESNT carry out those promises SHOULD BE charged with fraud,stripped of his position and sent to prison for how ever long the position was supose to last, and have his position given to the OTHER party candidate, and be fined how ever much money he raised during his campaign,for good measure...just for starters. Maybe THEN people will pay more attention to WHO they vote for and the politicians will be held accountable for WHAT they promise.

November 02 2010 at 3:41 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

who in the hell should listen to Sarah Palin when she quit her job as governor what a waste and women are just praising her and for what. she has a daughter who had a child under the age of 18 and yet America loves her why? what kind of values do she have.I guess the same as the people who follow her.

November 02 2010 at 2:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Need campaign laws that limit this wasteful spending. That four billion dollars would have been better spent on other projects like on the country's infra structure. The UK has a better handle on this and would be a good idea to at least check it our.

November 02 2010 at 2:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The nice thing about tomorrow is that the election talk will be over for about a week. Then, the candidates for president in 2012 will start throwing their hats into the ring. This happened right after the 2006 midterms. Get ready for another 20 month election cycle.

November 02 2010 at 1:14 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I find it interesting in a climate where we talk about the atrocities linked to bullying, yet our political arena does just that! What message does that send to our young counterparts? Honestly, grow up candidates!

November 02 2010 at 12:27 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply


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