I'm changing up adwatch a bit. Now you can grade the ads yourself using the polling feature, on a scale of 1-10. Disagree with the assessment on the front page? Fine, make your case in the comments, and vote. The campaign usually reads this blog post, so you'll defintely register feedback. I imagine the scale will be a bit inflated, since people often confuse criticism of ads with criticism of candidates. Oh well.
Netroots candidate Patrick Murphy is using your money well. Aside from having a good candidate blog, Murphy's first ad hits the right messaging notes.
The ad, like Tessa Hafen's in Nevada, splashes 'Democrat for Congress' on the screen. Nice to see some clarity on who the candidate is (for my money, the best Democratic-brand ad is Richard Morrison's, which cost $1500 to make).
The ad goes straight at Bush, promising change by ending Bush's blank check in Iraq. It begins with a screenshot of John F. Kennedy, and pans through different pictures of Murphy while describing his background. Then the theme shifts to Murphy's positive agenda, which is to change direction in Iraq, stop Bush's blank check policy, begin bringing troops home, and returning focus to the war on terror.
So kudos to Murphy for following the recommendations in our accountability memo - he's clear about holding Bush accountable, about being a Democrat, and about using Iraq as a way to introduce himself to voters.
There are a few problems with the ad, naturally. One small problem on messaging is that he talks about change in Iraq so we can refocus on the 'war on terror'. The problem is that speaking in terms of the war on terror is a reactionary frame, and will immediately cause voters to look for a candidate promising a more authoritarian model. That tends not to work for Democrats. If I were running against him as a Republican, I would run an ad that says 'I agree with my colleage on the need to refocus on the war on terror, which is why I voted for terrorist surveillance and the Patriot Act. Where does he stand?' Democrats should keep the conversation on Iraq; stop Bush's blank check to refocus on the troops, or to refocus on a strategy for victory, or refocus on our problems at home, or something like that works more to our advantage. Other than that, the messaging is good.
The production values could be better - I love the background music in Larry Kissell's ads, for instance; by contrast, the one in the Murphy spot scream 'generic political ad', which makes it more likely to be ignored. Also, the ad could tell a story instead of presenting a resume. For example, Michael Steele, Mark Kennedy, Eliot Spitzer, Rick Santorum, and Ned Lamont are running exceptional ads that tell stories connecting their values to their campaigns. These two (here and here) from Steele are great. Kennedy, Santorum, and Lamont use their families to tell stories about who they are as people, Kennedy and Lamont through humor and Santorum through sentimental though effective creepiness. Spitzer uses a more populist theme to tell a story about government and passion, but all of these candidates use a narrative flow that tells a story about the candidate that connects their strength as individuals to their ability to project strength in office.
Murphy's ad doesn't quite reach that level; it's more like a field goal than a touchdown. I'm going to give it a 6.