Political Attack Ads Work, But Are They True?
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
The president tries to close the enthusiasm gap, Castle may write in, Lazio steps out, and wannabe govs square off in California and Illinois. It's Wednesday and time for a debatable edition of the Political Junkie.
President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.
Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad. Wheres the beef?
Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.
Former Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.
(Soundbite of scream)
CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to talk about the week in politics, and this week President Obama declares his faith in Jesus; the chief of staff at the White House wants to run for mayor, but is Chicago still home? And Republicans demand ethics trials for two Democrats before Election Day.
In a bit we're going to focus on the good, bad and ugly ads of these midterms. Later in the program, an argument that conservatism does not equate to racism. But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us, as he does every week, here in Studio 3A. As usual, we start off with a trivia question.
KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Okay, well, we're going to talk later in the show about the New York governor's race, and as you know, the Democratic candidate is Andrew Cuomo, and of course his father served as governor.
CONAN: Hamlet of the Hudson.
RUDIN: And since we did not have a T-shirt winner last week from the beautiful studios of New York, so we have two T-shirts to be given away today. Who was the last Democrat and the last Republican okay, so who let me start again.
Who were the last Democrat and Republican governors whose fathers also served as governor?
CONAN: Of a state.
RUDIN: Of a state.
CONAN: Okay. So if you think you know the answer to the question, the last Democrat and the last Republican governors whose fathers were also governors, one of each, you only get to pick one at a time because we're giving away two T-shirts, you can't win two, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org.
And before we get to people who think they know the answer to that, Ken, well, Jimmy Carter, the former president of the United States, entered the hospital yesterday with stomach pains. Apparently he's doing okay.
RUDIN: Yes. He was on a flight from Atlanta to Cleveland. He was giving another book tour. He had stomach pains. The rumor is that he blamed Ted Kennedy for his stomach pains. That's not true, but he's blaming Ted Kennedy for everything else.
But he is in good spirits. He's in good health, perhaps better health than many of the Democrats who are up for election on November 2nd. But Jimmy Carter's doing fine.
RUDIN: Jimmy Carter, of course, well-known for talking a lot about his faith in office. Yesterday, curiously, President Obama seemed to go out of his way to discuss the same thing. This was at the event - he was in Wisconsin and New Mexico yesterday. This was a backyard event in New Mexico. He was asked why he was a Christian and spoke extensively about his faith and why Christianity is central to his life.
President BARACK OBAMA: Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings, that we're sinful and we're flawed and we make mistakes and that, you know, we, we achieve salvation through the grace of, of God.
CONAN: And this is, of course, amidst, well, poll numbers that show a significant number of Americans believe he's a Muslim.
RUDIN: Right. There was a Pew poll that came out not too long ago that said that 20 percent of Americans still think that he's a Muslim. And part of it is also the fact that a lot of people feel that President Obama has been very professorial and above the fray and not emotional about his own personal faith and things like that.
So I think he tried to accomplish both things with that speech. It was unusual to hear it, but I understand why he did that.
CONAN: So as much about what Doonesbury was talking about this week, the intervention to get rid of his chill pills rather than the Muslim...
RUDIN: And that's part of basically what he's - he's trying to do a lot of things with less than five weeks to go before November 2nd election. His big rally yesterday in Madison, Wisconsin, again was the kind of thing he wanted to do to bring back the magic.
You know, there's one thing about Barack Obama, that he's a great campaigner. He may not be the greatest administrator in the world or the greatest message-giver as president, and he's tried to, as you say earlier, tried to recapture that magic with that big rally at Madison.
CONAN: You're getting some interesting poll numbers around the country in a lot of different places. For example, today the Washington Post reported that the Democratic governor in Maryland, Mr. O'Malley, opening up a substantial lead over the former governor, Bob Ehrlich. You're getting polls in California showing that Democrats are ahead in the races for governor and Senate there.
RUDIN: They're pretty close in California.
CONAN: They're pretty close, but nevertheless you're seeing some big regional divisions here.
RUDIN: Yeah, in Ohio too. I mean, for the longest time, the feeling was Governor Ted Strickland, the Democrat, the one-term Democrat, was well behind his Republican challenger, John Kasich. Now some new polls come out, have it if not tightening - even. And so for all the talk about lack of Democratic enthusiasm, lack of Democratic emotion about what's at stake on November 2nd, there is some indication that some of the Democrats are getting the message in some of the states you mentioned.
CONAN: Yet Connecticut, that was not thought to be a close race, looking pretty close.
RUDIN: No, and that's one that the Democrats should have run away with, and that's the one with Richard Blumenthal, the state attorney general, against Linda McMahon, the former wrestling executive, who seems to have a hammerlock on him going into November 2nd.
And also West Virginia, John Raese, the two-term - he's a multi-millionaire businessman who has run for the Senate twice before. Joe Manchin, the governor, was very, very popular. He was elected with re-elected with 70 percent of the vote in 2008. And now he's running for the (unintelligible) Senate seat of the late Robert Byrd. And those numbers apparently have closed up as well.
CONAN: Still several weeks before Election Day, and, well, one of the rituals of the campaign season are the debates. There were some interesting ones in Illinois yesterday and in California. I heard something about that. And this was a particularly interesting line from former eBay executive Meg Whitman, the Republican running against the now attorney general of California, Jerry Brown.
Ms. MEG WHITMAN (Republican Gubernatorial Candidate, California): The labor unions and Jerry Brown have been joined at the hip for 40 years. I mean, my view is putting Jerry Brown in charge of negotiating with the labor unions around pensions, around how many people we have in the state government, is like putting Count Dracula in charge of the blood bank.
CONAN: It's an old joke but a pretty good line.
RUDIN: Well, it is, and yet, you know, given all the problems that are in California, and there are enormous problems there's a $19 billion budget deficit - neither Brown nor Whitman seemed to address what they plan to do about it. And a lot of the debate, which was an interesting hour debate, the first one of - first of three, seemed to be about personal attacks.
Whitman went after Jerry Brown for being a tool of the unions. Jerry Brown said, look, all she'll do is just give tax breaks to the rich and which, you know, she's already spent $119 million on that campaign, more than any other campaign in history, and so basically it has devolved into personal attacks, which is kind of sad because given all the problems that California faces.
CONAN: All right, let's go to Delaware, where in the primary Mike Castle, thought to be the runaway favorite to be the next senator from the state of Delaware, take the old Joe Biden seat, was defeated in the primary. It looks like he may hang around and try a write-in campaign.
RUDIN: Well, maybe. The deadline is tomorrow. He has until September 30th to decide whether he wants to be a write-in candidate on the ballot. That's the tack that Lisa Murkowski exactly did the same thing in Alaska. She lost her...
CONAN: Castle is easier to spell.
RUDIN: That's exactly with a write-in, absolutely. And Castle, like Murkowski, lost his primary to a Tea Party-supported candidate. In Alaska, of course, it was Joe Miller. In Delaware, it was Christine O'Donnell.
And Castle has been urged by a lot of people, different kinds of advice. Of course he will when he runs statewide - he's a statewide congressman for many years, the longest in Delaware history - he wins overwhelmingly. Even in 2008, when Joe Biden was on the ballot for senator and vice president, he ran for both at the same time, Castle won overwhelmingly. The question is whether that will translate to a write-in campaign.
CONAN: And Rick Lazio, the defeated Republican candidate for governor in the state of New York, has stepped aside. He was on the Conservative Party line, which is interesting because his opponent, Mr. Paladino, considerably more conservative than he is. Nevertheless, he has decided to step away, and it now looks like the Conservative Party in New York may give Mr. Paladino that...
RUDIN: Right. The Conservative Party endorsed Lazio months ago because they thought he would be the strongest candidate, not thinking for a second that Carl Paladino had a shot at winning the nomination. And as it turned out, all sides were wrong.
CONAN: In any case, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question. It's two questions. Do you think you know the last Republicans and Democrats to serve as governor whose fathers were also governors? 800-989-8255. Email: email@example.com. And Alan's(ph) on the line, calling from Centerville in Ohio.
ALAN (Caller): Yes. I think on the Democratic side, it was Lawton Chiles, Jr. and Lawton Chiles, Sr. of Florida.
RUDIN: Well, Lawton Chiles, Sr. was governor of Florida, but his son, Bud Chiles, Lawton Chiles III, talked about running for governor this year, but he was never elected and he dropped out of the race.
ALAN: Oh, poo.
CONAN: Well, that's what his campaign manager said.
RUDIN: Can you say poo on the air?
CONAN: I think you can. All right, thank you. Sham-poo. Let's see...
RUDIN: Winnie the...
CONAN: Let's go next to Simian(ph), Simian with us from Rochester.
SIMIAN (Caller): Yes, hi. I know part of the I think it was, the last name is Culver, father and son from the state of Iowa?
CONAN: John Culver.
RUDIN: Right. Well, Chet Culver is currently the governor of Iowa, but his father, John Culver, was a senator and earlier a member of the House, but he was never governor.
SIMIAN: Oh, okay.
CONAN: And thank you very much for the call. Let's go next to this is Mark(ph), Mark with us from Kansas City.
MARK (Caller): The Democratic side, how about the Browns from (technical difficulties)...
CONAN: Pat and Jerry Brown?
RUDIN: Well, Jerry Brown was elected governor in 1974 for the first time, and Pat Brown was first elected the governor in 1958, but he is not the last, most recent Democrat to do that.
CONAN: Nice try, Mark. Here's an email from Jerry: Kathleen Sebelius.
RUDIN: Kathleen Sebelius is the correct answer on the Democratic side.
CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.
RUDIN: Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, was elected governor of Kansas in 2002. Her father is not was, is John Gilligan, who was a Democrat elected governor of Ohio in 1970.
CONAN: Let's see if we can go so that's a winner of a fabulous no-prize T-shirt.
RUDIN: That's right, the Democratic winner.
CONAN: For the most recent Republican to be a governor whose father was also a governor, let's see if we can go to Dillon(ph), Dillon with us from Portland, Oregon.
DILLON (Caller): Hello?
CONAN: Hi, you're on the air. Go ahead.
DILLON: Yeah, I was going to guess Mitt Romney and Evan Bayh.
CONAN: You've got to choose one of them.
DILLON: Evan Bayh.
RUDIN: Evan Bayh's father was Birch Bayh, who was a senator, not a governor.
CONAN: Okay, thanks very much, and, well, this is - let's go to Ray(ph), Ray with us from Miami.
RAY (Caller): Well, I was going to say the Romneys, Mitt Romney.
RUDIN: Can I just say, we gave the previous caller a choice.
CONAN: A choice. He could have picked the Romneys.
RUDIN: Romney is the correct answer.
CONAN: Ding, ding, ding, ding.
RUDIN: Mitt Romney, elected governor of Massachusetts, 2002. George, of course, was elected governor of Michigan in the 1960s.
CONAN: So hang on, Ray. We will put you on hold and collect your information so we can send you a fabulous no-prize T-shirt. The new shipment has come in; you may actually get it in exchange for your promise to send us a digital picture of yourself by email so we can post it on the wall of shame. Congratulations, Ray.
RAY: Absolutely. Can you hello?
CONAN: If it's quick.
RAY: Yeah, I just wanted to ask you if you could address the Senate race for Florida.
CONAN: Okay, we will definitely do that, but not right now because we've got a break coming up, and after it...
CONAN: ...we're going to put you on hold we're going to be talking about the ads of this political season.
What specific advertisements are you seeing where you live that why do they work? What makes them succeed or fail? 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.
Ken Rudin is here, as he is every Wednesday, NPR's political editor and our political junkie. Ken also blogs and Podcasts and taunts us weekly you can spell that whichever way you want with his ScuttleButton puzzle. You can find all of that at npr.org/junkie.
No, I was not referring to him when I mentioned the good, the bad and the ugly a moment ago. We're talking about the latest round of political campaign ads in these midterm elections.
And this one from Colorado seems to capture a lot of the big themes in this year's campaign.
(Soundbite of advertisement)
Senator MICHAEL BENNET (Democrat, Colorado): I've been in Washington for only a year.
Unidentified Announcer #1: And what's Bennet done? He voted to cut Medicare, jeopardizing benefits for over 200,000 Colorado seniors. Bennet's scheme will raise premiums for hard-hit families. Bennet even raised taxes $525 billion, a jobs killer.
Gutting Medicare, hurting seniors, killing jobs.
Sen. BENNET: Because I'm listening to Colorado.
Unidentified Announcer #1: Oh, really?
CONAN: We'll talk more about that ad in just a moment. But we can't get to every ad that's running out there. So tell us: What specific ads do you see? What makes them work or not? 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. You can also go to our website, that's at npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Evan Tracey is the founder and president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, and he's been kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A. Nice of you to be here.
Mr. EVAN TRACEY (Founder and President, Campaign Media Analysis Group): Good afternoon, great to be here.
CONAN: And you just heard that ad being run by the Republican Senate Committee against the incumbent, appointee senator in Colorado. Those seem to be the major themes that the Republicans are trying to work this year.
Mr. TRACEY: Yeah, absolutely. It's the Republicans' messages is fairly easy this time around. They're running against Washington, and they're running against any Democrats, and obviously, they're running against the Obama administration. So it's...
CONAN: We're not them is what they're saying.
Mr. TRACEY: That is it. It's we are not them. It's the new and improved Republican brand.
CONAN: And the one phrase that seems to come up over and over and over again in a lot of Republican messaging is job killer.
Mr. TRACEY: Right. This is, this election is every election kind of searches for who that voter is. It's been the soccer mom in the past. This election is kind of the break room election.
I mean, all these ads are targeted at these people with jobs who are economically insecure. They're worried about health care going up, or they're worried about their hours being cut. This is really the sweet spot of this election is that sort of economically insecure voter.
CONAN: And as you look at that ad, well, this is a fairly recent ad that the just started running, does it work? Is it going to be effective, do you think?
Mr. TRACEY: Well, it taps into, certainly, I think the mood of the people right now, and that's that, you know, people are angry. People are frustrated. But most of all, they're anxiety-ridden about this economy and their jobs and their personal situations.
So the message is certainly going to tap into what people feel. It's just a matter of can they reinforce it, can they back it up.
CONAN: And some Democrats are running ads that are interesting, too. This is an ad that's being run in Florida's Eighth Congressional District, where Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson has come under fire for equating his Republican opponent, Daniel Webster, well, to the enemy in Afghanistan.
(Soundbite of advertisement)
Unidentified Announcer #2: Religious fanatics try to take away our freedom in Afghanistan, in Iran and right here in Central Florida.
Mr. DANIEL WEBSTER (Republican Congressional Candidate, Florida): Wives, submit yourself to your own husband.
Unidentified Announcer #2: Daniel Webster wants to impose his radical fundamentalism on us.
Mr. WEBSTER: She should submit to me. That's in the Bible.
Unidentified Announcer #2: Webster tried to deny battered women medical care and the right to divorce their abusers.
Mr. WEBSTER: Submit to me.
Unidentified Announcer #2: He wants to force raped women to bear the child.
Mr. WEBSTER: Submit to me.
Unidentified Announcer #2: Taliban Dan Webster: Hands off our bodies and our laws.
CONAN: And so that is the Taliban Dan ad that's drawing some controversy. Is that sort of I mean, certainly you get people talking about it.
Mr. TRACEY: They get noticed in this environment. This is clearly going to be one of the more negative elections we have. There's not a lot of warm and fuzzy spots being run out there.
You know, these particular ads, you know, I say with negative ads, it's the other campaign's job to provide context. And when the context is being provided, then people sort of make up their minds on these.
But it gets noticed. It's not all that untypical for some of the ads we've seen this cycle.
CONAN: And the Democrats are a lot of Democrats trying to equate Republicans with some of the extremism you occasionally find associated with the Tea Party movement and other things?
Mr. TRACEY: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this is the Democrats right now are sort of looking for that message. And in a lot of cases, when you have a lot of incumbents, they're really - there's no place they can go that voters don't already know, that they don't already know about the candidates and the incumbents. So what they really try and do then is disqualify the opponent with these kind of ads.
CONAN: And as negative ads, everybody says, you know, they may be appalling, but they seem to work.
Mr. TRACEY: People seem to watch the negative ads more. It's not what you see necessarily from Coke and Pepsi. So it's a little strange to see on your TV, and people tend to stay with them longer.
But they also have been shown to be more fact-based, and that's what the voters are sort of looking for in this election.
CONAN: We're talking with - this is Evan Tracey, founder and president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, 800-989-8255. What specific ads are you seeing out there? What makes them work or not? And you can also join us by email. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And we'll start with Lincoln, and Lincoln's calling us from Las Vegas.
LINCOLN (Caller): Hello, how are you?
CONAN: Good, thanks.
LINCOLN: The ads I'm seeing here between Sharron Angle and Harry Reid seem to be pretty different. Sharron Angle's ads all allude to about what's going on, our unemployment or foreclosure and stuff like that, but nothing specific about what Harry Reid has said or done or not done. Whereas Reid's ads are very specific, playing direct quotes from her various interviews she's done in the last year, exactly saying the saying the exact opposite of what she's campaigning for.
CONAN: Here we have an example of one of Harry Reid's ads. This is an attack on Sharron Angle on the unemployment insurance.
(Soundbite of advertisement)
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. SHARRON ANGLE (Republican Senatorial Candidate): I got up every day looking for a job. The unemployment benefits helped me get through.
Unidentified Announcer #3: Sharron Angle opposes extending unemployment benefits.
Ms. ANGLE: No, I wouldn't have voted for unemployment extensions.
Unidentified Announcer #3: She says laid-off workers are spoiled.
Ms. ANGLE: We really have spoiled our citizenry.
They want to be dependent on the government.
Unidentified Woman #1: I'm not spoiled, and I don't want to be dependent on anybody. If Sharron Angle doesn't get that, she should be out of work, not people like me.
CONAN: And that's a Harry Reid ad, that's not from the committee.
So he is trying to specifically hang her on her words, and, well, he's not exactly running on his record there.
Mr. TRACEY: Right, and your caller brought up a good point about these kind of ads. They do tend to work when you're using the other candidate's actual words in them. So, you know, these kind of ads do connect with voters, and that's been sort of the pace of this Nevada seat. It's really about nationalizing Harry Reid, and he's really trying to disqualify Sharron Angle.
RUDIN: We kind of saw that in Alaska, the opposite attack, that Lisa Murkowski tried to take. Basically, she didn't go after Joe Miller. She didn't go after the Tea Party folks. She talked about her record in the Senate, and voters clearly did not want to hear that.
And whereas John McCain, rather than talk about his record, he went after his opponent, JD Hayworth, calling him every name in the book, and it was very effective.
Mr. TRACEY: Yeah, Alaska was a great example, because Lisa Murkowski had spent a lot of her time and money basically attacking Obama and Pelosi in Washington, whereas her opponent and the Tea Party groups up there were attaching her to Obama and Pelosi, saying she's just like Obama and Pelosi. So there's this kind of triangular effect in the Alaska ads.
CONAN: Lincoln, did I hear you try to get back in there?
LINCOLN: Actually, yes. And also, I spend a lot of time online, and I've noticed quite a few ads for Reid against Sharron Angle online, and not a single one for Sharron Angle. And the same goes with my print media, as well.
I'm not registered at either party, and everything I've gotten in the mail has been from the Democratic Party and absolutely nothing from the Republicans.
CONAN: Well, that speaks to a difference in resources, I would think.
Mr. TRACEY: Yeah, I mean, I think that certainly, TV is the biggest megaphone these candidates have. If they have the money, they put it in the TV first.
The Internet has been shown to be great for raising money and great for putting together an organization, but it really is not that persuasion vehicle that a televisions spot is. So that's why candidates in their sort of hierarchy put everything on to television first.
RUDIN: And we also saw a special election in Pennsylvania 12, where when John Murtha - after John Murtha passed away, the Democratic candidate talked about what he's done for, what he will do for Washington, PA, rather than Washington, D.C., whereas the Republican tried to tie him with President Obama, Nancy Pelosi.
Republicans seem to be nationalizing the race in many commercials. Democrats seem to be dealing on local issues.
CONAN: Well, we're going to try to give you some examples of that. Lincoln, by the way, thanks very much for the phone call.
LINCOLN: Thank you much.
CONAN: Bye-bye. This is both parties are trying to do this. This is an ad that's been run, well, trying to nationalize it in the person of John Boehner, the House minority leader, who has been attacked as being too cozy with lobbyists. This is a website ad that talks about Boehnerland.
(Soundbite of advertisement)
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Announcer #4: This November, John Boehner wants to welcome you to Boehnerland. Get in the door for 37,000, jet across the country with lobbyists, pass out campaign checks from big tobacco on the House floor, team up with Wall Street to block reform.
Unidentified Man #1: Does he have a lot of relationships in the city? Yes, absolutely.
Unidentified Announcer #4: Boehnerland. He wants to be speaker, but we all know who John Boehner really speaks for.
CONAN: And this is another ad that's on the other side, this ran in that Pennsylvania 12th race that Ken was just talking about; paid for by the group Right Change, and it talks about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in, well, less than flattering terms.
(Soundbite of advertisement)
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Announcer #5: Once, Nancy Pelosi was safely confined to liberal San Francisco. But Harry Reid and Barack Obama had other plans.
President BARACK OBAMA: Under my plan, the electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.
Unidentified Announcer #5: Now gorged on our taxpayer dollars, Pelosi has grown into a power-hungry (unintelligible), defying the will of the American people. Who has the power to stop her? Who can save America? You, the Pennsylvania voter. Vote May 18th: the day we fight back.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Now, a humorous ad like that, it's the attack of the 50-foot Pelosi, well, I don't know. It seems to get a lot more attention to some degree.
Mr. TRACEY: Yeah, absolutely. And this is sort of the jib-jabbing of political advertising is the sense that the more out there it is, the more it gets noticed. But the problem sometimes the message gets lost when the ad is trying to be clever and funny, and they sort of lose the point. Republicans have made a point in about every race this cycle of introducing Nancy Pelosi, if you didn't already know her. Boehner, it's a harder sell. He's just not enough national of a figure, so you really see - haven't seen any traction with that.
CONAN: And so, anyway, let's go to another caller. This is David(ph). David with us from Boone in Iowa.
DAVID (Caller): Hi. We have an ad that was running out here from the incumbent governor, Chet Culver, who very earnestly standing in shirt-sleeves and says that he made some mistakes, but they're honest mistakes. And he'd like the people to get behind him and re-elect him. A lot of people didn't feel that saying that he had made mistakes was a very smart move for him.
CONAN: And have you seen the ads in that race?
Mr. TRACEY: Yeah. We've seen the ad. It's not all that different than what Mayor Fenty did in D.C. here with his ads basically saying I'm learning and will do better. You know, voters don't necessarily want to hear that.
CONAN: Mayor Fenty lost in the primary.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. TRACEY: Yeah, he lost in his primary. So, you know, that's a tough sell. You're trying to connect with voters on this, you know, let's give it another try and stick-with-me message, and voters tend to look at the new solution or the other alternative.
CONAN: Voting for change is that what were talking about here?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. TRACEY: Change, yes. We're voting for change.
CONAN: David, thanks very much for the phone call. We appreciate it. Bye-bye.
Let's see if we go next - this is Kim, Kim with us from Winchester in Massachusetts.
KIM (Caller): Hi. Can you hear me?
CONAN: Yes. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KIM: Thanks for taking my call. I thought that the ad that the Republicans are currently running right now, the national ad, called "Mourning in America" is very effective. And I would love to see the Democrats respond with an equally effective ad that highlights the accomplishments of the Obama administration, which I think has been greatly underplayed and diminished.
CONAN: Well, we have a...
KIM: And also, you know, some of the ways that the Republicans have blocked other very good legislation.
CONAN: We have a clip from the "Mourning in America" ad. Let's listen.
(Soundbite of political ad)
Unidentified Man #2: There's mourning in America. Under the leadership of President Obama, our country is fading and weaker and worse off. His policies were a grand experiment, policies that failed.
CONAN: Well, it goes on, and, in fact, there was more before that. This is obviously a play on Ronald Reagan's great ad, "Morning in America."
RUDIN: Mourning spelled differently with a U in this one.
CONAN: Well, it was like Alonzo Mourning.
Mr. TRACEY: That's right.
CONAN: And do you respond if you're - how well does that work?
Mr. TRACEY: You know, it's a fascinating ad. It's something we're going to see more of these next 30 days. The fact that this is a national buy, this ad is running on Fox Cable News, MSNBC Cable News, across the entire country as opposed to in individual races that you'd typically see in a midterm election.
And, you know, I think you're going to see these efforts because there's so many competitive races out there right now. There's not enough money by either the parties or the groups to play in all those individual races. And this is some I think, you know, it's a very interesting concept and the campaign - we'll see how it works. But this idea of going national in a midterm election is something we really haven't seen before.
CONAN: Kim, thanks very much for the call.
KIM: Thank you.
CONAN: We're talking with Evan Tracey, the part-founder and president of Campaign Media Analysis Group. Of course, political junkie Ken Rudin is with us as well. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Melissa in Overland Park, Kansas, emails Steven(ph) Moore, Kansas 3rd District Congress, has a new ad today.
Mr. TRACEY: Stephene.
CONAN: Stephene, excuse me. I can't read. That is humorous and effective. It shows a revolving door that spins faster and faster with politicians turning into lobbyists. She stops it with her pointy-toed shoe. Her opponent is a career politician. She's a nurse. You think that's going to be working?
Mr. TRACEY: Yeah. These are the kind of metaphors that, you know, are connecting with voters in this election. It's, you know, again, very anti-Washington. You see in all the polls that the special interests are part of the problem, not part of the solution. So yeah, candidates are out there highlighting that and how they're different and not from Washington. Probably going to help them this fall.
RUDIN: Evan, you talk about connecting with the voters. Now, I haven't done LSD in a long, long time, but I had an acid flashback when I saw that "Demon Sheep" ad that the Republicans used against - well, against - let's see. It was...
Mr. TRACEY: Tom Campbell in the primary.
RUDIN: Tom Campbell.
CONAN: Tom Campbell. We have a clip from the "Demon" (unintelligible)...
RUDIN: This is beyond...
CONAN: ...the visuals are pretty great, too.
(Soundbite of political ad)
Unidentified Man #3: Tom Campbell. Is he what he tells us? Or, is he what he's become over the years? A FCINO: fiscal conservative in name only. A wolf in sheep's clothing.
CONAN: Oh, you really need to see the red eyes.
RUDIN: But this is beyond belief.
(Soundbite of laughter)
RUDIN: But the thing is this is a Republican primary ad, Carly Fiorina's people (unintelligible) against Tom Campbell. And then they have another ad against Barbara Boxer where she's a blimp going over - now, as insane looking as it is, it stays with me months later. You don't forget an ad like that.
Mr. TRACEY: Well, here's the thing about that. It's one of these - it's a Web video. So it's not got the repetition behind it that a traditional TV ad would have. You have to go find it and view it and see it. Web videos are really part of the fabric of campaign communications now because it's a great way to introduce a toxin into a race without having to put it on TV. It gets talked about the more sort of out there it is, the more it gets covered and talked about. So it's not something that becomes sticky over time because most people won't remember what the ad was about, but they'll remember the red eyes of the sheep.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Yeah, that's right.
Ms. TRACEY: But it's a great way, and it's something you're going to see a lot of this year, is candidates really trying to leverage Web video into their races.
CONAN: And finally, this email from Bill in California - speaking of California. I just can't stand when Jerry Brown says: And at this stage of my life, this is what I'm prepared to do. It suggests he wasn't prepared before. So why now? Just because he wants our vote? It almost suggests he's too old for the job. I just believe he's not coming across as very genuine.
And that authenticity, critical to anybody's campaign.
Mr. TRACEY: Absolutely. I mean, that's what voters want to see, is they want to identify with a caricature. They're never going to know the candidates, but what they do is they have a negative caricature and a positive caricature of each one. And they - the one that identifies with the positive caricature the most are the ones that do the best.
CONAN: Colorado, there was an ad by the Mayor Hickenlooper of Denver where he's taking a shower to get rid of all the campaign muck. Well, I - other factors are working into his advantage, but that's one of the rare positive campaigns.
Mr. TRACEY: Yeah, this is part of his brand. He's always done some kind of wacky ads that tend to be really down-to-earth and connect with folks. And it's great because he, you know, he basically was getting out in front of any negative ads that would be run against him because then he could say, see, I told you so. So, you know, good ad, very smart campaign.
CONAN: Evan Tracey, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.
Mr. TRACEY: Sure.
CONAN: Evan Tracey, founder and president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, kind enough to be with us here in Studio 3A. Ken is going to stay with us, because, coming up, who are you calling racist? Gerard Alexander argues many liberals get conservatives all wrong. And he joins us next. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.