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Candidates seeking the Oval Office are blitzing the airwaves with political ads. But only one seems to be making any traction.
By LESLIE SAVAN  |  February 13, 2008

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JOHN.HE.IS
This parody of John McCain is as hilarious as the “Yes We Can” video on which it’s based is moving. To the same music as Will.i.am’s ode to Obama, a bunch of hip, young musicians solemnly overlay their voices onto the war hero’s spoken words, though they slowly begin to freak as they realize what he’s saying: 100 years in Iraq “is fine with me”; hey, we could be there “for 1000 years or for 10,000 years.” (Also classic is the Beach Boys “Barbara Ann” moment accompanying clips of McCain joking that we should “Bomb, bomb Iran.”) For those moderates, indies, and even libs who are considering voting for the likeable maverick, this video is the perfect antidote. And for Clinton or Obama, it’s the most persuasive anti-McCain ad they could dream of.
The roughly 205,000 campaign ads that have run on American TV so far this primary season have undoubtedly played a major electoral role — even if it’s only filling the airwaves with $177 million worth of vitriol and blather designed to obscure the real issues. As Al Gore wrote in The Assault on Reason, you can even lay some of the blame for the Iraq War at the feet of the almighty campaign spot: many senators blew off scheduled debates over whether to invade because they “were at fundraising events they now feel compelled to attend almost constantly in order to collect money — much of it from special interests — to buy 30-second TV commercials for the next re-election campaign.”

Which is another way of saying that politicians, like Larry the Cable Guy or Ryan Seacrest, work for television. And that automatically puts all sorts of limits on what they can and cannot say or be. We may never know exactly whose ad is doing what, for or against whom, at how many millions per punch. But we can be pretty sure that the surviving candidates will be closely watching the best of Team Obama’s spots. In the meantime, there are a few basic commercial principles that all the pols should cling to as they barrel toward Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, and beyond. Such as:

Ads can’t buy you love
To some extent, the 2008 campaign has buried Teddy White’s old axiom that the modern presidency can be sold on TV like soap flakes. Take, for example, the 100 percent ad-built Mitt Romney, who spent at least $30 million through Super Tuesday on television advertising, only to flop like the Arch Deluxe. Or, worse yet, the televisually hapless Rudy Giuliani, who spent $60 million on his entire campaign and won only one delegate. GOP survivors John McCain and Mike Huckabee both got by, at least for a time, on shoe leather and a smile, rolling to victory on the thinnest dimes out there.

Then again, if ads can’t buy you love, they can at least buy the forbearance of “free media” talking heads — if you spend a lot of money, they treat you seriously. Barack Obama, who swept all of this past week’s contests, spent more on television, $31 million, than any other presidential hopeful through February 5, while Hillary Clinton clocked in third, behind Romney, at $24.6 million, according to the TNS Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group. John Edwards’s media coverage dried up long before Iowa because he couldn’t compete against two top-drawer media accounts. Folks who work for TV never bite the hand of a big advertiser. Like, never.

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  Topics: News Features , Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Newt Gingrich,  More more >
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