Initial U.S. Senate Ads Are Tame. But Stay Tuned.

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Greg Markley

By GREG MARKLEY

One welcome aspect of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2001 (McCain-Feingold Act) was that candidates had to certify that no outside group was paying for an ad and hiding that fact. So they had to declare “I approved this message” usually at the beginning or end of TV or digital campaign ads. It was felt that by having to verbally take ownership of the ad’s content, that mudslinging would be muted.

Ha, ha. Many candidates since this law went into effect in the 2002 election swallowed their pride, hitched up their money belts and went about creating ghastly lies. Even publicly showing ownership of an inaccurate or malicious ad did not stop candidates from luxuriating in the mud. (This does not apply to ALL hopefuls; some are do-gooders, not fiends.)

In the 2022 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, there are six candidates. Yet only three are running a lot of TV ads — Katie Britt, Mo Brooks and Michael Durant. This column analyzes the “introduction” ads of those three people. First ads are designed to show a soft portrait of the individual. Using broad generalities, they shy away from controversy and attacking their intra-party challengers.

The Durant ad begins with the famous video of him as a helicopter pilot captured by the enemy in Somalia — circa Oct. 3, 1993. This leads the viewer back in time, which is appropriate as Durant’s capture is hazy or non-existent in people’s memories. Durant is profiled in a certain role or family relationship after the phrase “God said…” Durant was made a soldier, a survivor, a businessman, a conservative, a husband, a father and a leader.

Critics say this TV ad was “over-the-top,” making Durant a near-divinity. I do think the religious theme runs too long, but I respect that the ad producers know that the religious emphasis works in Alabama. But so what? It’s obvious from Durant’s book and speeches that he credits God for his survival and successes. The “God made…” theme is appropriate, but maybe takes up more of the 3 minutes and 11 seconds than needed to prove the point. Grade: 95%.

As for Brooks, his ad makes a fine short essay on his goals and achievements. I would have bolstered his video by mentioning specific bills he ushered to enactment in his 11+ years in the U.S. House. Residents of his 5th Congressional District know what he has done for that 1/5th of the Alabama electorate. The other voters see him occasionally on Fox News but probably don’t watch C-SPAN to gauge his overall work. This ad is 3 minutes, 41 seconds.

I really like how they showed Brooks dragging a trash container up the hill in his driveway. That is very effective in presenting the common touch and that Brooks gets exercise. (Actually, he gets a lot of exercise besides trash duty and is in fit form at age 67.) That helps as younger candidates cannot use his age as a wedge indicating that a younger senator may be better. Grade: 94%.

Britt’s first TV ad covers a lot of ground in her professional and personal life, and has excellent, tight editing. Under the framing of “Faith, Family, Freedom” she puts a lot into the 3 minutes and 1 second time. I like her explaining what she did as CEO and president of the powerful Business Council of Alabama.

Voters had basic information but more is needed on her leadership role. She listed her role as chief of staff for two years with Sen. Richard Shelby; more insights would help. At age 36 she assumed that critical role for one of the highest-ranking senators; how rare is a female in that weighty role. Grade: 97%.

We are now well into the 20th year of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. Proclaiming “I approved this message” at least lets viewers know the candidate is aware of the content. As we saw with the introductory ads for Britt, Brooks and Durant, initial ads are like a first date — they only show one’s best side.

If I was authoring this bill, projecting what was to come, I would mandate that candidates say something else. No, not just caveat emptor denoting that the viewer himself or herself alone is responsible for watching TV in high-season for campaign ads. No, at the start of end-of-campaign videos, the office seeker would say: “I paid for this, so get your shovel out!”    

Greg Markley first moved to Lee County in 1996. He has Masters’ in education and history. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer for 12 years.  gm.markley@charter.net            

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