The Obama campaign is up with a new spot hitting John McCain on the economy, directly linking McCain's stay the course no matter what Iraq policy to the current maladies in the United States.
There are a lot of good things in this ad. For starters, it is important for Obama to make the case -- which Americans already intuit, but the way -- that the Iraq War is at least part of the cause of the economic problems facing America today. But the case could and should be made more explicitly. Instead of just saying that the Iraq War hurts the American economy, show it. The ad goes half the way in the direction of surplus deficit, noting that the Iraqi government has $79 billion more in its coffers than it is spending; why not also say specifically that this comes at a time when the U.S. federal deficit is reaching historic proportions? Why not link Iraq's record oil profits with the record price at the pump in America? The ad is almost there, but it's not quite specific enough.
The only other difference I would make in the ad relates to the inclusion of "better schools". Is this in contrast to McCain on the economy? If so, I'm failing to see the connection, outside of "better schools" being something that Obama is in favor of and something that theoretically polls well. The more focused an ad is, the less scattershot it is, the better it is -- and throwing in one and a half seconds on schools into an ad that is about Iraq and the economy doesn't really achieve this.
Overall, though, I think this ad is moving in the right direction.
One of the comments to come out of the MyDD caucus at Netroots Nation was that a lot of folks were interested in seeing a comeback of the "Adwatch" series where we offer constructive criticism on ads coming from folks on this side of the aisle. Indeed, it looks like it has been close to a year since I have done one, making it right time to restart the series right as the political advertising season heats up.
For my first installment, I'd like to point to some hyper-local ads being run on targeted cable in Northeastern Pennsylvania by the Alliance for Retired Americans. Take a look:
These ads carry a kind of J.G. Wentworth / Head On / Matthew Lesko / Publishers Clearing House quality to them -- although they don't feel like traditional political ads, and certainly don't have the more expensive production values seen in other ads, they almost stand out because of rather than in spite of this fact.
Perhaps this is the best way to convey the message to older Americans that John McCain's position on Social Security -- that it's a "disgrace" and that it should be partially privatized -- is a dangerous one. At this juncture, older voters are about the only ones to support McCain, so there is a possibility that a traditional national ad campaign wouldn't be able to completely permeate through the noise. But a localized campaign using local voters? The ads just may have the desired effect.
All in all, I don't think it's the greatest ad campaign ever, but it is a little different than the type of stuff we have been seeing this cycle. On the basis of this, as well as the strong message conveyed in the ad and the thoughtful targeting of the campaign, I'll give the ads an initial thumbs up while reserving some judgment to see how the ads actually play on the ground going forward.
You know those stupid ads that depict before and after shots where the before is always a woman without makeup frowning and the after photo is much brighter and crisper and features the same woman made-up and smiling? You're supposed to be, "Wow, [product X] must be great, look how it made her happier, prettier and appear more in focus!" Well, this is the political equivalent. I didn't know people were really able to be so blatantly manipulated. Clearly Rudy disagrees.
Hmm, who knew that New York pre-Rudy was a black and white urban jungle whereas post-Rudy it was sunny, in color and had lots of trees. It appears that the Giuliani campaign has been raiding the New York City tourism bureau's video library.
This ad is perhaps most notable because it casts Giuliani as the "turnaround guy," which is exactly what Romney is running on. The strategy here is to bypass the intro ad altogether, for obvious reasons, and subtly go after the frontrunner on his turf in New Hampshire on his strength. What's conspicuously absent: any reference to 9/11 or terrorism, probably a wise strategy since the moment you start making claims about 9/11 you're asking for more scrutiny and that's the last thing he needs. Rudy would much prefer that his fragile 9/11 facade remain in place. One cliche about Rudy that this ad does reinforce though is that he is "America's Mayor." The post-Rudy imagery of New York looks like the overwrought nationalism from Pearl Harbor, complete with rising sun, tree lined street and a child hoisting an American flag.
Here Giuliani is playing the competence card over the fear card and going after Romney in what is essentially Romney country. If he's not going to devote more time to early states, as his campaign manager seemed to imply on a strategy conference call on Monday, it seems to me he should be trying to secure a strong second, which means going after the guy who's nipping at your heels for the runner-up spot: John McCain. Instead Giuliani is going after the leader, which I suspect will be a futile endeavor without further resources devoted to the state.
Americans Against Escalation in Iraq and the Campaign to Defend America have launched a new ad in Kentucky on the support Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is up for reelection in 2008, has given to the President's Iraq policy. The ad looks like this:
I've argued for some time, both on this site and in private conversation, that it's completely in the interest of the Democratic Party and the progressive movement to keep McConnell's feet to the fire by almost continuously running ads exposing how the positions he has taken and the actions he has undertaken are bad for America and out of touch with Kentucky. Even if McConnell isn't to be beaten this cycle -- and let me state for the record that I believe he is beatable, even though it would clearly be a difficult race for the Democrats to win -- keeping him on the defensive, thinking about his obstructionism may hurt him back home, could make it more difficult for him to keep his caucus together in blocking the Democratic agenda. With this in mind I most certainly endorse this ad buy.
Beyond that, I think this ad is important for another reason. By many accounts, General David Petraeus is an outstanding soldier and military mind. But he has acceded to the President's demand that he play a role in American politics by agreeing to be a part of a report on Iraq this September that will apparently be written by the White House to futher their own agenda. Given that the Bush administration and the Republican Party have been more than willing to politicize Petreaus, it is entirely reasonable that they are held to account for the potential political fallout from his comments, in this case that he believes America needs to stay in Iraq for the next decade, which, as President Bush's war czar has suggested may require a reinstatement of the draft.
Jerome has already posted each of these ads over in Breaking Blue, but I'd like to lay down a few thoughts on these first biographical ads put out by the Obama campaign. To view the ads, which begin running in Iowa this week, click on the screen below (note, the ads may take a second to load):
Let's start with the ad on the left, the longer biographical spot that deals with Obama's community organizing. I think this ad hits on the right points and is fairly effective. I like the effort to harken back to Obama's keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the speech that put him on the national map. The focus on organizing and the quote from the SEIU organizer seems to strike the right tones for the Iowa Democratic caucus-going electorate, as does the attention given to his decision to turn down high paying legal work on Wall Street in favor of registering voters. This isn't going to seal the deal for most or even many caucus-goers, but it is a solid biographical spot that does a good job of advancing a narrative that could help him win.
Now on to the second ad. Again, I think the inclusion of a portion of Obama's 2004 DNC keynote is a plus for the ad. But I think the ad doesn't particularly work, at least in terms of the Iowa caucuses. The fact that the Republican legislator quoted at length in the poll is a supporter of John McCain in the Republican primaries isn't a particular problem for me (though it could make for fodder for the talking heads on the cable news networks). My issue with the ad, which Marc Ambinder expresses very well, is that Iowa isn't necessarily the best place to run an ad about bipartisanship -- at least when running for support in the caucuses rather than in the general election. Ambinder explains, "Bipartisan message ads like this work in New Hampshire... they're not seen all the much in Iowa, where the Democratic caucus electorate is (a) Democratic and (b) partisan." Remember, while Independents are able to participate in the New Hampshire primary -- and appear intent to do so at a remarkably high rate -- they cannot participate in the Iowa Democratic caucuses, a fact that Ambinder alludes to.
It's certainly possible that this second ad (or both of them, for that matter) is more about garnering national attention via near-constant repetition on the cable news networks than it is about swaying potential Iowa Democratic caucus-goers. In this case I'm still skeptical that the bipartisan angle is the best one for the Democratic electorate (as much as there is one nationwide), but that's a point that could be argued at another time. Regardless, it seems to me that the first ad is getting closer to the right message for Obama than the second -- even if it's not quite there yet, either.