Political advertising is a mainstay of American politics. And no political season is complete without instances of the outrageous, offensive, poignant, and funny images that flash across the television screen trying to elect politicians.
This year is no exception. While hundreds of thousands of political ads that have crossed the airwaves this year, some are more memorable than others.
Think of the "Daisy" ad during the 1964 presidential campaign that aired only once because of its ominous and frightening message. The ad shows a little girl picking and counting petals off of a daisy until the picture is filled with the explosion of a nuclear bomb. That ad is said to be instrumental in Lyndon B. Johnson’s victory over Barry Goldwater.
Not all attention-grabbing ads make or break a campaign. In fact, Mark Putnam, political ad maker for Democratic candidates, said it’s rare – but it’s worth a shot if the campaign can only afford to run one ad, he said. That was what Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst did in her primary, and it worked.
But more realistically, Putnam said, “An entire ad campaign should cut through. The ads should be driven by research and reinforce each other thematically, strategically and creatively.”
Still there are some ads that stop viewers in their tracks, caused political pundits to pontificate and challenging campaigns to cry foul. We chose some of those to highlight. In no particular order:
Kentucky Senate: Sen. Mitch McConnell
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell released a heartwarming ad in late September that shows a different side than the straight-faced, tactical Senate mastermind. In the ad, “Home,” a woman described how McConnell personally worked to rescue her kidnapped daughter who was taken to Mali. “When we won our fight, Sen. McConnell met us at the airport,” Noelle Hunter said to the camera.
Kentucky Senate: Alison Lundergan Grimes
In this ad released in September, called “Skeet Shooting,” the Democratic nominee uses the prop of a gun to challenge one of McConnell’s central lines of attack - that Grimes will be another vote for President Barack Obama.
Throughout the 30 second ad, Grimes accurately shoots her target, saying, “I’m not Barack Obama. I disagree with him on guns, coal and the EPA.”
She doesn’t miss an opportunity to knock McConnell, either. The ad then pivots to a picture of McConnell holding a gun in the air at a conservative conference. Grimes says, “And Mitch, that’s now how you hold a gun.”
Kansas Governor: Gov. Sam Brownback
Brownback, a Republican running for re-election, released the “Carr Brothers” ad. It ties his Democratic opponent, Paul Davis, to “liberal” Kansas Supreme Court justices for overturning a death penalty sentence for two brothers who committed five murders in 2000.
The former District Attorney who prosecuted the case slammed Brownback for the ad, calling it “beyond disgraceful” and exploitative.
Kansas City Star columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah wrote that Brownback should “pray for forgiveness from Kansans and the Lord for the shameful, race-baiting TV ad.”
Brownback defended the ad, doubling down in a debate, vowing that he appoints “tough” justices.
Nebraska 2nd Congressional District: Rep. Lee Terry via the National Republican Congressional Committee
In what is being billed as a “Willie Horton” style ad this campaign season, a racially-charged ad invoking fear used during the 1998 presidential campaign by candidate George H. W. Bush against Michael Dukakis.
In this add, the National Republican Campaign Committee released the ad titled “Nikko” to bolster incumbent Rep. Lee Terry who is in a tight race for his Congressional seat in Nebraska.
Alaska Senate: Sen. Mark Begich
Running in an independent minded state, Sen. Begich takes aim at the Democratic establishment and federal government agencies, including the EPA, while trying to show his Alaskan bona fides by riding a snowmobile (or snow machine in local parlance) on a sunny, -21 degree Alaskan day.
“I fought for five years so we could the permit to drill under this ice, and we won,” Begich says in the folksy ad.
The ad was so effective that his challenger, Republican Dan Sullivan issued a response. And a good one.
Alaska Senate: Republican Dan Sullivan
Sullivan’s ad tried to tear apart Begich’s argument in his “polar ice” ad and paint Begich as a phony. It featured Cory Davis, a “four times x Games Medalist,” who said he had “a good laugh” when he saw Begich riding a snow machine in his ad.
“Begich acts like Mr. Alaska when he wants our vote. But the truth is he votes with Obama and his D.C. friends. Not Alaska,” Davis said to the camera.
Texas Governor: Wendy Davis
In this ad officially called “Justice” but now known as the “wheelchair ad,” Davis makes issue of her challenger, Greg Abbott’s paralysis and use of a wheel chair. The screen shows an empty wheelchair with a narrator saying Abbott was a victim of a bad accident but has sided against accident and maleficence victims during his law career.
“A tree fell on Greg Abbott; he sued and got millions. Since then he spent his career working against other victims,” the narrator says.
The ad was called “one of the nastiest ads you will ever see” by the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza.
Davis defended the ad.
Iowa Senate: Republican Joni Ernst
Ernst’s ad “Squeal” propelled Ernst’s candidacy amid a crowded Republican primary. She had little cash and used it well. This ad will probably go down as one of the most effective this campaign season.
“I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington I’ll know how to cut pork,” she says to the camera followed by a pig squeal.
North Carolina Senate: Sean Haugh
Well, Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh didn’t cut the ad, but conservative group American Future Fund did in an attempt to convince young voters to vote for Haugh, potentially pulling away votes from Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.
It might be the funniest campaign of the season. The ad is super cheesy with bright-eyed young people trying to look like they are into marijuana. The teens enthusiastically sputter phrases like, “Get Haugh, get high” or “More weed, less war.”
Michigan Senate: Republican Terri Lynn Land
In Land’s ad, “Really?,” Land takes on the Democrats’ “war on women” by allowing viewers to “think” if Land, a woman, is “really” waging a war on women. Viewers could think for 11 seconds – more than one-third of the ad – while Land sipped from her coffee cup.
The ad a ton of attention by the media but with mixed reviews. Republican pollster Frank Luntz called the ad “the worst” ad while others called it “fantastic.” Either way, it was memorable.
New Hampshire Senate: Republican Scott Brown
In one 30-second ad, Brown effectively tied Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to President Barack Obama, evoked fears about ISIS and tied it to border security, an issue that speaks to the Republican base. It was a brilliant move that helped to move Brown closer to Shaheen’s polling numbers.