Anatomy of a Campaign Ad: Guns, Horses, Outrage

By Beacon Staff

Those frustrated with what they perceive as a lack of difference between Republicans and Democrats need look no further than recent campaign ads. I’m mildly obsessed with a campaign advertisement by Dale Peterson, a Republican candidate for the Alabama Agriculture Commission, making the rounds on political blogs. It’s a remarkable spot in that – as excellent, albeit unintentional satire can – it points out just how reductive, unimaginative and almost insultingly condescending most political advertisements are, making you feel dumber for having watched it. But this one covers all the bases: Horses? Check. Western wear? Check. Ranch or farm setting? Check. White-hot faux populist anger? Check. Firearms? You should know better than to ask.

And yet what struck me about Peterson’s ad is how similar it was to some of those run by Gov. Brian Schweitzer in the 2008 campaign, like this one, perhaps the most memorable:

Schweitzer gets points for actually shooting the gun and evincing a more calm, controlled populist anger than Peterson, but loses points for lack of horses and no western wear (omissions he makes up for in other ads).

As far as I can tell, these ads must be working like gangbusters, since aspiring pols can’t seem to get enough of them. Here’s the new ad by Dennis McDonald, seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Denny Rehberg for his U.S. House seat:

OK! We’ve got horses, western wear, cattle herding, loading a flatbed with something that looks heavy, and actual fence-mending. We’re not going to fault McDonald for not brandishing a firearm in this one. This is, after all, a Democratic primary, however his demeanor is disturbingly placid. Look for the big guns to come out (literally) if he makes it to the general. For another example of some excellent fence-work in political campaign ads, check out this brilliant spoof of the phenomenon by some guy named Will Ferrell.

But what if I don’t work on a farm? How will I know who to vote for? Where are the ads that speak to my demographic as a cynical, sneering, media desk jockey? I want to see a campaign commercial where a perspiring CPA with a spare tire tells me he’s navigated bureaucracies his whole life and knows better than anyone the loopholes, waste and effective channels in government. While I’m (sort of) joking, I am struck by the effectiveness of these ads by Rick Snyder, who is running for governor of Michigan, a state desperately in need of leadership. Snyder’s campaign slogan is, “One Tough Nerd.” I love it, but could it work in Montana? Only with some tweaking: “A Nerd with a Shotgun”? I could be on to something…

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.