The 2012 election is supposed to be a referendum on the economy. But the first salvo of ads from conservative groups and super-PACs airing this week adopt the more unconventional "throw a bunch of stuff against the wall to see what sticks" gambit.
On Friday, Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed conservative group, is set to kick off a $6 million ad buy in a number of key election states, including Ohio, Florida, and Virginia. The ad focuses on the president's use of tax dollars for energy policies that outsource jobs, but also brings up the stimulus and the failed investment in the solar panel company Solyndra. For good measure, AFP president Tim Phillips added something else to the mix: "You cannot allow or it does not work when an administration is using our tax dollars in pursuit of an ideology, in this case global warming."
The group American Future Fund, which received seed money from an Iowa ethanol magnate, also announced plans to spend around $2 million in ads that attack the president on Solyndra, and on the recent General Services Administration scandal.
And then there's Karl Rove's ill-advised attempt to capture the youth vote. The Rove-backed American Crossroads super-PAC released a highly mockable ad on Thursday that attacks Obama for being too cool. It's basically a reprise of the 2008 ad released by John McCain's campaign that called Obama a celebrity, not a leader — people thought that ad was pretty stupid, too. Rove's ad calls Obama a "celebrity president" and shows some of the Internet's favorite moments in presidential beer-drinking and slow-jamming the news. The ad then says half of recent college grads are jobless or underemployed, saddled with tons of loan debt, and are moving back in with their parents.
It could be that as the general election progresses the ads will become more unified and focused on the economy. But if the unemployment numbers in swing states stay down, and Obama keeps inching ahead of Mitt Romney in the polls in those states, it will be just as hard to make that case directly.