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10/ 2/06

10:30 AM

Spot Check 

Ads Go High-Concept in the Twentieth District

The race in the upstate Twentieth Congressional District between incumbent Republican John Sweeney and his antiwar opponent, Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, will likely fit squarely into the rout category come November 7. Despite ethics issues — stemming from a ski trip to New York, the exchange of legislative assistance for campaign contributions, and the hiring of his wife as a campaign fund-raiser — Sweeney enjoys a double-digit lead. But the race has produced two of this year's most fascinating ads — locally or nationally.

The Gillibrand ad features actor David Strathairn playing himself playing Edward R. Murrow. Surprisingly, this isn't exactly a Hollywood liberal helicoptering into a race he has no business being involved in. Strathairn lives in the district, and this is his first political ad.

Sweeney's ad also uses a local constituent but to less meta, if more confusing, effect:

Quite a forgiving soul. Sweeney voted for the war and he's a pro-Bush Republican (two facts omitted). And yet, it's a weirdly honest representation of American sentiment about the war. You have to admire a political ad that attempts to muster support based on such ambivalence. It recalls the Smoking Collegiate Republican, a classic Lyndon Johnson ad from 1964.