The general election has begun! And so has the onslaught of campaign ads. Which ones succeed? Which fail? In Ad Watch, we review them as they come out. Today in Ad Watch: Karl Rove tries the soft sell on swing voters using a little CGI, while President Obama and Mitt Romney fight for reporters over Bain Capital.
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The Ad: Crossroads GPS, "Basketball"
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The Issues: The economy.
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The Message: Obama gave inspiring speeches in 2008, but he couldn't live up to his promises. This ad is part of a kinder, gentler approach from Karl Rove's Super PAC, The New York Times' Jeremy W. Peters reports, a new direction after focus groups found swing voters respond negatively to harsh attacks on Obama. Crossroads decided to use an actress, Peters reports, to "soften a tough message about complicated issues." An actress explains, "I supported President Obama because he spoke so beautifully. He promised change. But things changed for the worse."
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Who'll See It: The one-minute ad begins airing Wednesday in 10 swing states. The Super PAC is spending $25 million on the ads.
Who It's For: Swing voters. Peters reports that in focus groups, Crossroads found, "Middle-of-the-road voters who said they thought the country was on the wrong track were unmoved when they heard arguments that the president lacks integrity. And they did not buy assertions that he is a rabid partisan with a radical liberal agenda that is wrecking America."
What Everyone Else Thinks: Joe Ritter wants his red meat!
The Effect: The gentle female voice at the beginning, combined with gentle piano music, instantly reminds you of a Monistat commercial. The thing that got me to watch the ad over and over, however, was watching the young woman morph into an old woman. The CGI is a little bit uncanny valley, though it is amusing to imagine an Obama administration can age a woman 20 years in a single term. The ad succeeds at finding a nice way to call Obama a failure. B
Note: Today's other big ads are merely part of a battle for the hearts and minds of reporters on the Bain issue.
The Ad: Priorities USA, "Republicans vs. Romney's Record"
The Issues: Is it fair to attack Romney for the job he did at Bain Capital?
The Message: Republicans sure thought so in the primaries! The ad shows clips of Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, and Jon Huntsman all saying Bain is fair game. Romney was "getting rich off failure and sticking it to someone else," in Perry's words.
Who'll See It: The ad is a two-minute Web video, so only reporters and political nerds.
Who It's For: Reporters writing stories asking whether Bain is fair game. Take, for example, The New York Times Monday, in a post that was originally headlined, "In Obama-Romney Trash Talk, What's Fair and Where's the Fine Line?" Michael Shear wrote, "But the episode involving Mr. Booker suggests that Mr. Obama is walking a fine line as he tries to make Bain Capital a central issue in the presidential campaign. Both candidates are eager to attract independent voters who may be turned off by attacks they think cross a line of decency."
What Everyone Else Thinks: Um, those Republican primary candidates lost.
The Effect: It's supposed to remind you that despite Newark mayor Cory Booker's complaint that Bain attacks are "nauseating," pretty much anyone who has ever run against Mitt Romney has used them. This video is only valuable if you're struggling to pull up an old quote in Nexis. C-
The Ad: Mitt Romney, "Big Bain Backfire"
The Issues: Obama's attacks on Romney's career at Bain.
The Message: Even Democrats think Obama's Bain attacks have gone too far. The video shows clips of Cory Booker, Harold Ford, former car czar Steve Rattner ("a leading Democrat," the ad explains) all saying it's not nice to attack private equity.
Who'll See It: This, too, is Web-only, so most of the people who see it will be the ones who were looking for it.
Who It's For: Just like in the Priorities ad, this one is for reporters writing stories about whether the Bain attacks are fair -- plus ones writing those discord-within-the-Democratic-Party stories.
What Everyone Else Thinks: Rabid Republicans voters will post this video on their liberal friends' Facebook pages. The liberal friends will comment, "Ugh, Harold Ford, seriously?"
The Effect: This ad is merely a recap of the last three days. C
The Ad: Democratic National Committee, "Mitt Romney: Not a Job Creator"
The Issues: Negative media coverage of Romney's Bain experience.
The Message: People with some ties to business -- CNBC's Jim Cramer, Staples founder Tom Stemberg, plus Steve Rattner in a second appearance -- think Romney's job at Bain was not to create jobs. Therefore, Democrats who attack Bain cannot be anti-business, because that would make these businessmen anti-business. And that's impossible!
Who'll See It: This is another Web video, destined for political nerds' eyes only.
Who It's For: Reporters.
What Everyone Else Thinks: If a stray swing voter were to stumble upon this ad, the voter would think, "Oh look, clips of people talking on cable news," and then X out of the window.
The Effect: The ad's unintentional message is that cable news can be unpleasant. D