Congressional ad watch: Smith and Landrieu attack opponents, candidates introduce themselves

To an unusual degree, posts today have focused on new TV spots - from Obama, Franken and McCain - so let’s continue in that vein with this must-see response to McCain by Paris Hilton (yes, it’s real). “He’s the oldest celebrity in the world… but is he ready to lead?” asks the spot in an obvious parody of McCain’s “celeb” ad. Hilton goes on to call McCain the “very old” “wrinkly white-haired dude” and she proposes her unexpectedly articulate energy policy!

Meanwhile, and more seriously: In Oregon, the past few ads released by Gordon Smith have touted the Senator’s bipartisan credentials to appeal to independents, though Smith also released attack ads in July accusing Merkley of wanting to raise taxes. The DSCC replied with an ad hitting Smith over energy issues after an earlier ad tied the incumbent to President Bush. Now, Smith is out with a negative ad that accuses Merkley of wasting taxpayer money redecorating the offices in the legislature, even attaching price tags to different furniture items:

Merkley has little money to go on air (this is one race in which cash-on-hand disparity matters) and Smith is taking the opportunity to define the still-unknown Democrat as a tax-and-spend liberal. In July, he released ads arguing that Merkley likes taxes… and here is the complementary charge that he likes to spend. This ad looks like a caricature, and that’s because the “tax-and-spend liberal” figure has become such a staple of GOP ads. They seem (and are) silly, but viewers are used enough to the tax-and-spend attack that the overarching narrative becomes part of the political conversation. How well they succeed will depend on whether Merkley has the resources to respond before Smith succeeds in defining him. The DSCC is committed to the race, but can only do so much work.

In Louisiana, meanwhile, both candidates released ads this week. On the one side, Republican John Kennedy, trying to run as a reformer. His new and somewhat humorous ad (you can watch it here) says he will get Congress to spend less because… he is personally cheap. The ad shows him saving pennies and bringing his brown bag lunch to the office: “One leader is so tight, he squeaks,” says the ad, which also reviews Kennedy’s record. Senator Mary Landrieu has another idea on how to introduce Kennedy to voters: attack him for his flip-flops, party switch and for being a… liberal! Landrieu notes that Kennedy ran for AG as a Democrat, endorsed Kerry in 2004 and that Republicans called him a liberal during his Senate campaign:

Landrieu’s goal to (1) undermine any honest reformer approach Kennedy might try to portray and (2) take away any enthusiasm conservatives might have for Kennedy. Landrieu is the only truly endangered incumbent Democrat this year, and her main obstacle is the red-lean of the state she represents. If she convinces voters that her opponent isn’t a Republican, however, it might offset the unfavorable terrain she must fight on.

In other Senate advertising, two incumbents are airing positive ads. In Maine, Susan Collins ad on energy (you can watch it here) confirms that all ads on this topic could be aired by just about everyone, from either party, and that most candidates endorse the same lofty goals. This is what makes the energy issue appealing to so many candidates: it allows them to look centrist and pragmatist - two adjectives Collins needs as a Republican incumbent in a Democratic state.

Then, there is South Dakota: A year ago, we weren’t even sure if Tim Johnson would run for re-election. Now, he is facing minor opposition in what is looking like an easy re-election race. But Johnson’s ads are still interesting because they feature a candidate still struggling with health issues. In fact, Johnson’s opening ad - released last week (you can watch it here) - was entirely devoted to his health, with the Senator admitting that he was still working on his speech. Yesterday, he unveiled the second part of his advertising campaign (you can watch it here) by highlighting his accomplishments since he “came back to the Senate.” The ad claims Johnson has not missed a single vote.

Moving on, we have two ads with a very similar message by two Democrats running in red areas. In Idaho, Larry LaRocco’s ad (you can watch it here) reviews the problems the country is facing - jobs, inflation - and calls for “change.” In NC-08, repeat candidate Larry Kissell airs his first ad (view it here) against Rep. Hayes. “We cannot afford two more years of this,” argues the Democrat, speaking directly to the camera and citing rising oil prices and lost jobs. He calls for “a new voice.” The distrust in the GOP is the main reason Democrats have a chance in states and districts like these, making these calls for generic “change” the logical type of ad they should run.

In WA-08, finally, Darcy Burner is one of the best-funded House challengers: she raised more in the second quarter and she has more cash-on-hand than her opponent, GOP incumbent Rep. Reichert. That allowed her to release a 60-second biographical ad (watch it here) highlighting, among other things, her life story, her brother serving in Iraq, her preparing a plan to get the US out of Iraq and her work on the Chinese toy issue. The 2006 race took some nasty terms, and Burner was attacked by her opponent for her inexperience. That she can afford a 60-second ad (with a much larger scope) is a good way for her to reintroduce herself to voters and start inoculating herself against those same attacks by highlighting substantive policy work she has done.

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