Dire Predictions and Disastrous Votes: Election Ads

Melissa Block talks with voice-over artists Dennis Steele and Scott Sanders about how to make a threatening voice for a political ad.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now to some voices that are much more frightening.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Man: Kickback schemes, federal criminal probes, too much crime, too few arrests, failed leadership.

Unidentified Woman: Higher taxes and more government intervention.

Unidentified Man: Thirty-one thousand calls to 911 but no one answered the phone.

BLOCK: Ooh, scary. Negative ads are of course a campaign staple, and this has been a very productive campaign seasons for voiceover artists Scott Sanders and Dennis Steele. We brought them together to talk about the special skills that go into a making a really good negative ad. They both agree the first step is leave your own politics at the studio door.

Mr. SCOTT SANDERS (Voiceover Artist): Yeah. We're hired guns. You know, this is a job like anything else.

Mr. DENNIS STEELE (Voiceover Artist): You know, this kind of job is all about speed and immediacy. They're done really quickly and, you know, they're right on the air. And that's kind of what political season ads are like.

BLOCK: Well, Dennis, let's take a listen from one of your ads from this cycle. This was an ad you did for the Republican Governors Association, an ad against the Democratic governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm.

(Soundbite of campaign ad)

Mr. STEELE: Newspapers say lies fuel Granholm's ads. It's not shock. With no real results on jobs, lies are all she has left.

BLOCK: Dennis, what do you think listening to that now?

Mr. STEELE: It's time for a change. You know, that's pretty standard issue. You know, what some consultant once said to me was soft negative.

BLOCK: Not as attacky as it could be.

Mr. STEELE: You know, my voice and my style of delivery - I think if you want, you know, the heavier attacking style, there are other guys out there who can do that better than I. I think I'm more -

BLOCK: You mean the king of the attack ad?

Mr. STEELE: Yes.

BLOCK: One happens to be sitting next to you.

Mr. STEELE: This gentleman on my left, yes.

BLOCK: Scott Sanders.

Mr. STEELE: That guy, yes.

Mr. SANDERS: Yeah.

Mr. STEELE: You know, there are several kinds of attacks too. There's like heavy and there's middle and there's light. I mean and now he's under investigation by the FBI. You know, bad, ooh. And then there's, sometimes I get in there and they say, don't do anything. Just lay it out there. And it's like, and now he's under investigation by the FBI.

And then there's a light one where it's like, and now he's under investigation by the FBI? It's like, oh, I thought he was such a good guy. And now he's under investigation. I get a lot of that. They either me to say ironic or they just say you're sad.

Mr. SANDERS: You're sad.

BLOCK: Well, Scott, let's take a listen to one of your one of your attacks ads. This is an ad for Sherrod Brown and his campaign against Ohio Senator Mike DeWine.

(Soundbite of campaign ad)

Mr. SANDERS: They work hard and they love their country, and all they ask for in return are leaders who are on their side. Does Mike DeWine measure up? He voted for a trade deals that sent jobs overseas, he voted for tax breaks for corporations -

Well, that's a real soft negative.

BLOCK: Yeah. I understand you can get much more doomy that that.

Mr. SANDERS: Oh yes.

Mr. STEELE: Oh yeah.

BLOCK: Well, when you do, when you really sink to the depths, what do you with your voice? How are you doing it?

Mr. SANDERS: Should I try one of these things? I got to have something to read.

Mr. STEELE: Sure.

BLOCK: Okay. Well, I should say that we have sent you some benign nursery carols and try to figure out how nasty you could make them.

Mr. SANDERS: Okay. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. He said he could put himself together again. But after wasting thousands of our tax dollars, all the king's horses and all the king's men, he failed us. Humpty Dumpty. Wrong on wall sitting.

BLOCK: Dennis, you've got another one?

Mr. STEELE: Yes. London Bridge is falling down. Falling down, falling down. And who's the blame for withholding needed infrastructure funding? My fair lady. Take the key and lock her up. It's time for a change.

Mr. SANDERS: I got one more too. I got to read this one. This is funny. John Jacob Jingle Heimer Schmidt, his name is my name, too. Whenever we go out, the people always shout, hey, what about Iraq? There goes John Jacob Jingle Heimer Schmidt. He's not on our side.

BLOCK: I don't think I'm ever going to be able to read those quite the same way.

Mr. SANDERS: Well, that's our contribution to nursery rhymes.

BLOCK: Do you find yourself slipping into this voice sometimes when you're home?

Mr. STEELE: No. Oh my God, that would be - could you imagine me ordering something in a restaurant? I'll have the trout with lemon.

Mr. SANDERS: Actually, I am such a wannabe for like promos for TV shows and movies that, yes, I do them all the time. Thursday.

BLOCK: Let me ask you one more thing here. Is there a favorite word or phrase maybe that pops up in these ads that you just love getting to say?

Mr. STEELE: Well, I was just saying. I don't know if it's my favorite, but I think I get hired a lot - especially this cycle cause I happen to be doing a lot of Republicans - and I think they like the way I say liberal.

BLOCK: That's pretty good.

Mr. STEELE: As if it is like the worst possible thing - liberal. That and it's time for a change.

BLOCK: Scott Sanders, do you have a favorite?

Mr. SANDERS: I like the way you call people liars and crooks. I love when you're -

Mr. STEELE: He's lying.

Mr. SANDERS: Oh, they don't say lying anymore. They say he's not telling the truth.

BLOCK: Well, Scott Sanders and Dennis Steele, it's been great to talk you. Thanks so much.

Mr. STEELE: You betcha.

Mr. SANDERS: Thank you, Melissa.

Mr. STEELE: Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: Voiceover artist Scott Sanders and Dennis Steele, the king and prince of the attack ad.

Mr. STEELE: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

BLOCK: And negatively?

Mr. SANDERS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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As the Election Nears, the Ads Sling Mud

There is less than a week left until the elections that will determine which party wins control of the House and Senate. With such high stakes, political parties are not holding back.

Millions of dollars have been spent on campaign ads that discredit opponents in the eyes of at-home viewers. From the much discussed Michael J. Fox on stem-cell research, to a lady who claims to have met a candidate at a Playboy party, the campaigns are doing whatever it takes to get their message across. Below, a sampling of some campaigns at work.

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