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Health care, Trump and Pelosi are among top themes of 2018 campaign ads

A roundup of some of the most controversial and important ads of the campaign.
Rob DeSantis political ad.
A campaign ad for Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for Governor of Florida.via YouTube

WASHINGTON — The 2018 midterm election campaign is nearing its end, and that means a respite is within sight for weary TV viewers who live near any of the nation's hotly contested contests. Yes, all those negative campaign ads will soon be going away.

With just days to go, there has already been more than $2.7 billion spent to flood the airwaves with ads in battles for the House, Senate and governor's mansions this cycle.

In such a flood of television ads, especially in states filled with competitive races up and down the ballot, it's not easy for candidates to stand out on the airwaves. But this cycle, we've seen a few candidates and political groups stand out, either with unique ways of sharing their message or with biting attacks that prompted a second look.

Here are 14 of the most interesting ads of campaign 2018:

Joe Manchin shoots the GOP healthcare lawsuit

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin's September spot is a perfect example of how the campaign messaging has changed on health care, even in GOP-leaning states. For years, many Democrats ran as far away from the Affordable Care Act as they could, while Republicans won seats away from red-state Democrats. But the calculus is different now, and Democrats like Manchin are turning the issue into a chance to play offense.

In this ad, Manchin returns to his famous 2010 spot where he took on his own party's cap-and-trade bill by shooting it. But this time, he's taking literal aim at a popular target for Democrats — a GOP-backed lawsuit that wants to strike down key provisions of the ACA.

Ron DeSantis teaches his child to "build the wall"

While dozens of GOP races revolved around candidates jockeying to be seen as the best embodiment and supporter of President Donald Trump, perhaps nothing exemplified that trend better than the Florida gubernatorial primary.

Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis skyrocketed to the top of the polls on the strength of Trump's support alone, stepping over the beaten-down campaign of Adam Putnam, the state agriculture commissioner, who was long seen as the party's "anointed one."

In this spot, which came out weeks before the primary, DeSantis's campaign jokes about the lengths to which DeSantis had gone to bear-hug Trump.

Elissa Slotkin shares story of mother's pre-existing condition struggles

Democrats aren't just weaponizing the health care battle — they've also sought to connect with would-be constituents with personal stories about their own struggles with illness or insurance.

Michigan Democrat Elissa Slotkin's spot does just that, telling the heart-wrenching story of her mother, who lost her health care and subsequently died from ovarian cancer. The spot includes footage of her dying mother toasting Slotkin and her new husband at their wedding, which she says they rushed because of her condition.

Brian Kemp is "so conservative"

Georgia Republican Brian Kemp mounted his own come-from-behind victory in Georgia's GOP gubernatorial primary thanks to an ardent conservative message and an embrace of Trump.

His ads unabashedly pushed the envelope, including this one, which features him triggering an explosion, showing off his gun collection, and telling viewers he can help deport undocumented immigrants in his truck. The hard-right primary strategy paid off in the primary, but it's set up an interesting dynamic for his general-election fight against Stacey Abrams, the Democrat.

Amy McGrath makes waves with first ad

Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath caught fire as one of the handful of first-time Democratic candidates who turned viral campaign ads into serious fundraising hauls that legitimized their candidacies quickly.

In this spot, McGrath introduces voters to the story of her push to become a combat fighter pilot, arguing she'll take that same intensity to Congress. That biography helped her edge out a better-known Democrat in the primary, and kept her race against Republican Andy Barr well within her sights.

The ad initially gained traction on social media, a path also taken by Democrats like Randy Bryce, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and MJ Hegar.

The NRCC warns of "government-run" health care

Republicans have gone all-out to hold Democrats accountable for the party's flirtation with single-payer-health care or "Medicare for All," which is becoming more and more popular on the left. In doing so, they've hit candidates whether or not they openly embrace the issue.

This ad is a great example — it targets New Mexico Democrat Xochitl Torres Small, who has said she wants to make "affordable health care accessible to everyone" but doesn't endorse single-payer. Even so, the NRCC is airing a tough spot that shows a mother calling her doctor for an emergency with a sick child, only to be told that their doctor doesn't accept her health care thanks to the new government-run system. The group is rolling that spot out to other races as well to make a similar point.

Conor Lamb distances himself from Pelosi

Pennsylvania Democrat Conor Lamb made it cool for Democratic candidates to break with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a longtime villain in GOP campaign ads.

Lamb neutralized the Pelosi argument early by coming out for new Democratic leadership if elected, and he continued to reinforce that position throughout his victorious effort in last spring's special election campaign. Now, we've seen more than 50 Democratic candidates say they wouldn't back Pelosi for speaker, although Republicans have pushed back on the claim by questioning what these candidates would do if Pelosi is the party's choice for speaker on the House floor next year.

NRSC tries to nationalize Tennessee Senate race

The Tennessee Senate race has proven tough for Republicans to put away despite the state's GOP tilt. Democrat Phil Bredesen, the state's former governor, led GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn by 2 points in the September NBC News/Marist poll.

Bredesen has tried to downplay partisanship in his campaign, telling Politico this summer: "If the question on the ballot were, 'Do you want to send a Democrat or Republican to Washington?' I would lose. If it's, 'Do you want to send Phil Bredesen or Marsha Blackburn to Washington?' I think I can win that."

It seems like Republicans are getting the message, as the attacks have already started warning Republicans about the dangers of him being elected.

Joe Donnelly touts praise from President Trump

Red-state Democratic senators like Indiana's Joe Donnelly have been trying to walk a thin line in mobilizing the Democratic base to turn out for them in November while navigating the fact that Trump won their states by a landslide.

Donnelly has tried to do that in a variety of ways this cycle, including an ad touting support for Trump's immigration policies and his border bill, as well as this spot that includes video of Trump thanking him for his work on a new law that opens up experimental drugs to those with serious illnesses.

Duncan Hunter evokes opponent's terrorist grandfather

In arguably the most divisive ad from any major candidate this cycle, California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter references his "Palestinian Mexican millennial Democrat" opponent, former Department of Labor official Ammar Campa Najjar, who the ad claims is trying to "infiltrate" Congress.

It also brings up his opponent's grandfather, one of the terrorists who attacked the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Campa-Najjar's grandfather died before he was born.

The spot drew a harsh rebuke from Campa-Najjar, whose campaign also pointed out that Hunter was recently indicted for misusing more than $250,000 in campaign dollars.

Paul Gosar's family begs Arizonans to vote him out

Not getting along with a family member is common. Not getting along with six of your siblings is less common. Having those six siblings actively trying to get you fired from your job on a national stage is even less common.

But that's exactly the situation Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar found himself late last month, when two-thirds of his siblings cut an ad for his opponent, Democrat David Brill.

Martha McSally jabs Kysten Sinema for her pink tutu

Seeing a dip in the polls after a brutal GOP primary, Arizona Republican Rep. Martha McSally and her allies launched a tough line of attack on Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, effectively questioning her patriotism.

McSally's campaign effectively made a meme out of the pink tutu that Sinema wore while protesting the Iraq War, unveiling it in this ad as it sought to rally conservatives and veterans to help her keep Arizona's Senate seat red.

Heidi Heitkamp defends Kavanaugh "no" vote in deep-red state

The fallout related to Justice Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation and the accusations of sexual assault levied against him may be resonating the strongest in North Dakota, where Republicans are confident Heitkamp's vote will make it easier for them to dethrone her.

The Democrats campaign is trying to inoculate her with a direct-to-camera spot justifying her vote, which typifies how the Kavanaugh vote has set up a tough set of circumstances for Heitkamp and her fellow red-state Democrats who voted against the new justice.

President Trump's re-election campaign makes sale to suburban voters

The president isn't officially on the ballot, but even he's well aware that the midterms will be seen, in part as a referendum on his presidency. That's why his re-election campaign launched an unusual $6 million television buy across the country that frames the election as a choice between prosperity and uncertainty.

The spot is running in states with key races up and down the ballot, like California, Texas, Illinois, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa.