Obama Ad Attempts To Reintroduce Democrat

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Barack Obama's new biographical ad introduces him to audiences that know little about his background. Jonathan Martin, a senior political writer for Politico, says it's an attempt to reassure middle class white voters he's no different from them.


Yesterday on the program we talked about a new biographical campaign ad from John McCain, and today we're going to talk about a recent ad from Barack Obama. We're joined once again by reporter Jonathan Martin of Politico. Jonathan, welcome back.

JONATHAN MARTIN: Thanks for having me.

NORRIS: And this ad that we're going to hear from Barack Obama, it was a minute-long ad. It's his first general election ad. It's titled "Country I Love," and he's the narrator. Here's how it starts.


BARACK OBAMA: I'm Barack Obama. America's a country of strong families and strong values. My life's been blessed by both. I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents. We didn't have much money, but they taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland where they grew up.

NORRIS: That Kansas heartland. We're going to be hearing a lot about it.


MARTIN: Yes we are, and this is Obama's attempt at Americana. He has gotten so much support from young voters, from the sort of, you know, trendy, politically tuned-in set. He is now trying to move himself, like McCain, to a more centrist part of the electorate, middle-class, frankly white Americans, you know, older folks who perhaps don't go for the rock-star rallies.

They don't so much, you know, love the idea of radical change. They want to reassured that we can vote for a Democrat, we can move on from George W. Bush, but not for somebody who's necessarily going to radically change American traditions and the sort of values that we hold dear.

This is Obama telling mainstream middle America I am not going to be any kind of a threat to what you love about this country. I am no different than you in my background, and my experience in this country is one that you can relate to.

NORRIS: And a lot of talk about these values: love of country, working hard without making excuses.

MARTIN: Right, exactly, and this is a recognition that he is still a blank slate. This is someone who came onto the political scene only four years ago, and for a lot of Americans, they don't know much about him at all, and he is trying to fill in the blanks right now; again, this sort of campaign of reassurance. It's also a recognition that, yes, issues do matter, but a lot of folks in this country vote for reasons that have less to do with issues and more to do with character and just gut feelings about familiarity.

NORRIS: Let's listen to how this Obama ad wraps up at the end.


OBAMA: I approved this message because I'll never forget those values, and if I have the honor of taking the oath of office as president, it will be with a deep and abiding faith in the country I love.

NORRIS: Now, Jonathan Martin, would you expect other biographical ads to take a sharper turn maybe at the end, maybe not naming John McCain but certainly alluding to him, much as John McCain's ad does to Obama?

MARTIN: I would with other candidates, but right now Obama is not so much running against John McCain as he is counter-punching these ghosts, these whispers that have come up about Obama and just exactly who he is.

The biggest threat to Obama, I think right now, is not John McCain or the Republicans, it is the sense that has been spread in these e-mails and this whisper campaign that he is somehow less than fully American, be it slurs about Muslim or his African-American background, what have you. That is his chief obstacle right now.

Therefore, it makes all the sense in the world for his opening ads to go not after McCain but after the subterranean campaign that he is somehow less than wholly American, which is why you see him explicitly, and to me remarkably, come and say that he loves this country. That's not a common thing for politicians. For most of them, it's assumed, but in Obama's case, because he is so new, he is explicitly coming out, you know, putting his hand over his heart and saying he loves the country.

NORRIS: It's interesting, too, if you look at the states where these ads are running, every state where John McCain's ad is running, there are about a dozen of them, the Obama ad is running as well, but Obama has also tacked on a lot of other states, among them Alaska, North Dakota, Montana, I mean, a lot of red states that Obama is still spending money on.

MARTIN: It's remarkable. Look, it's July. He's got the resources to do it. The true test as to whether or not he's really contesting those red-America states, as you call them, I think will be in October. If he's got ads on Halloween, and we're having this conversation then about North Dakota, Montana and Alaska, this is going to be a different kind of election.

I think right now he's just sort of checking it out, and if you're a Republican, that's got to worry you, and frankly, that's half the game, is just doing the sort of psychological thing and make clear to Republicans that you're going to try and play on their turf.

NORRIS: Okay, I'm marking that down. Call Jonathan Martin on Halloween.


MARTIN: That's right.

NORRIS: Jonathan Martin, good to talk to you. Thanks so much.

MARTIN: Thank you for having me.

NORRIS: That's Jonathan Martin, senior political writer at Politico. You can hear our conversation from yesterday about John McCain's biographical ad at NPR.org.


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