I love autumn – football games, bonfires, falling leaves – and – oh – wait for it – campaign ads flying through the airwaves. Okay, maybe I don’t love the ads but I do find them fascinating, particularly when they completely depart from reality, or take a kernel of truth and stretch it so far that it’s mind boggling.
I always flash back to 1990 when campaign season rolls around, as I spent the better part of my days working on a state senate race in the northeastern part of Wisconsin – a large district geographically – think northwoods Wisconsin where lots of folks from Illinois have “cottages.”
One night in particular remains fixed in my mind. We had to do a radio ad drop, which meant – and here I really am dating myself – driving from radio station to radio station to actually physically hand over the recording of the ad. Obviously, this was way before sending files electronically. It was super foggy and the deer were all over the roads, so we could only drive about 30 miles mph on the highway in order to avoid hitting a deer! We almost hit several and it took us five and a half hours to drive the entire district.
Today, however, you can just pull up your opponent’s ads on You Tube, send your ads from your computer and voila! No deer involved. So curiosity got the better of me recently and I decided to see if the ads around the country were getting as hard-hitting as they are here in Wisconsin.
In this ad sponsored by the National Rifle Association, they claim that Landrieu “voted to take away your gun rights.” What Landrieu really voted for was a bill that would have expanded background checks for Internet sales and at gun shows, not affecting private sales. To take this to the logical conclusion – even if the bill that Senator Landrieu voted for had passed, this woman in this ad could have presumably still bought a gun through a private sale as long as she didn’t have a mental illness or prior criminal convictions. It’s effective because of the fear it invokes and appeals to young, married women.
This was running in Arkansas. Sponsored by incumbent Senator Mark Pryor, the ad claims that Rep. Tom Cotton, voted against “preparing Americans for pandemics like Ebola.” Nothing jumping on the latest American fear du jour to get at your opponent. While Cotton did vote against an early version of the bill, he and Senator Pyror ultimately both supported the final version of the bill. What is good about this ad though is that Pyror documents all his claims by citing Congressional Record votes – so hard to argue with that.
In Alaska, incumbent Senator Mark Begich’s (D) ad, claims that his opponent, Dan Sullivan, former Alaska Attorney General, let sex offenders off with light sentences. It focuses in particular on a case in which a man was accused of murdering a couple and raping their daughter in 2013. According to Factcheck.org, Sullivan was not personally involved at all in the plea agreement. The ad was so controversial that it has been taken off the air. It was a good ad, but would have been better with more truthful information.
But my own personal favorite this year comes from my home state of Wisconsin in which Rep. Paul Ryan (R) targets the Internal Revenue Service.
This ad is simultaneously brilliant, sad, funny and very effective. The first time I saw it, I thought, what? Why is he running an ad against the IRS?? Well, recall the IRS scandal of late 2013/early 2014 in which the IRS was accused of mishandling tax-exempt status requests by conservative groups. Ryan has no love for the IRS but what is brilliant and sad about this ad is the Average Joe or Jane working hard to put food on the table might look at this ad and totally agree that the IRS is terrible – I mean who really likes paying taxes? And you can just hear them saying – “I agree, he’s got my vote!” It’s funny because it is a parody of a campaign ad and he can afford to do it because he’s running in a very safe seat in which Mr. Ryan can easily afford to poke fun at the IRS instead of running actual ads against his opponent, Democrat Rob Zerban.
A few more tidbits for you regarding campaign spending in these midterm elections. The New York Times reported on Oct. 10, that over half, 55% to be precise, of the general election ads sponsored by outside groups, come from organizations that reveal little if any information about their donors. The ads this cycle have largely benefitted Republican candidates and are “paid for by nonprofit groups and trade associations, some of which are established with the purpose of shielding wealthy individuals and corporations that contribute.” ( NYT Oct. 10, 2014 Secret Money Fueling a Flood of Political Ads) The article goes on to point out that both Republicans and Democrats have their secret money groups and that in the battle for the U.S. Senate in the nine leading races in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Georgia, Louisana, Michigan, and North Carolina, more than half of the outside spending came from anonymous donors to the tune of $84 million dollars.
With all that money swirling around, you would think more people would turn out to vote in these elections, yet predictions are that around just 40% will turn out to vote nationwide.
This will be one of few elections, if any, that I will not be watching the returns with my partner in life and in work, John Rogers. He’ll be assisting local CBS news anchorman Mike Strehlow in analyzing the election results. You can watch on channel 58 here in Milwaukee. Once again, no deer involved other than the candidates who lose and have to go on TV and look into the headlights.
Diane Rogers, Capstone Partner, draws on 25 years of experience working in state and federal government, offering clients expertise in public policy, politics, management, and strategic planning. Contact Diane here to find out more.
The views in this blog post represent the viewpoints of individual team members, not Capstone National Partners as a whole.