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Archive of Spot Check

11/ 3/06

4:02 PM

Spot Check 

Rick Santorum, a Hillary-Loving Hepcat

D.C. is nothing but a staged wrestling match, says Santorum.Courtesy Rick Santorum for U.S. Senate

When you think of Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum, the phrase "ideologically flexible good-time Charlie" doesn't immediately spring to mind. More like "fundamentalist jihadist who compared homosexuality to bestiality and said women should stay in the home."

In 2004, when the Christian right helped Republicans coalesce a permanent death lock on power in Washington, few were sitting prettier than the Ricker, who got busy encouraging Congress to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case and recently compared the Iraq war to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Some pointed out the irony of an avowed values warrior exemplifying the fight against terror by citing a movie that's basically nine hours of hugging hobbits. But getting those secret coded subtexts they plug into Hollywood movies nowadays isn't so easy for guy who doesn't encounter much culture beyond the passages from Revelations he puts his kids to sleep with every night.

Having searched high and lowbrow, Rick Santorum has finally found a cultural allusion he can work with. Less than a week before the election, with every poll showing him far behind challenger Bob Casey, Santorum has rolled out a clever riff on the popular professional-wrestling craze. In the ad, wrestlers who represent the rancorous climate in Washington go at it in the squared circle, while Santorum lists all the tone-defying bipartisan legislation he's sponsored with friends of moral relativism like Joe Lieberman, Barbara Boxer, and — wait for it — "even" Hillary Clinton.

The pair sponsored a bill censoring violent video games, a sop to the right Clinton loves to trumpet. If this was your introduction to Santorum, he'd seem like a pretty decent fella, youthful and with it, just the kind of moderating tone we need in D.C. and not the kind of loon whose major issue of 2005 was airlifting burritos to Terri Schiavo's hospital room.

Clinton Burnishes Hawkish Image [MSNBC]
Watch the ad.

11/ 2/06

2:45 PM

Spot Check 

It's Morning in Comptrollerville

Chris Callaghan has a new ad attacking Alan Hevesi, but it's a retread of one that ran last week in which an image of Hevesi waving bye-bye was juxtaposed over a black car rolling down the interstate. It ended on the wonderfully incongruous catchphrase "Callaghan: trust, integrity, comptroller." (One of these nouns is doing its own thing.)

A warning before viewing the new and improved version: When the black backdrop used to represent the moral dark ages of the Hevesi years gives way to the sky-blue backdrop of promise and hope that represents the dawn of the integritastic Callaghan age, you may get a little farklempt. It's powerful stuff.

10:45 AM

Spot Check 

Now It's Gayle Sweeney's Turn to Fight

Gayle Sweeney hits the air a day after several newspapers reported her 911 call of December 2005, in which she told a dispatcher her husband, Republican congressman John Sweeney, was knocking her around. The ad, apparently recorded yesterday morning, smartly refers to a different 911 call Mrs. Sweeney made this year when her husband was having health problems. Sweeney suffered from painful headaches and spikes in his blood pressure due to inflamed blood vessels in his brain.

The inflammation occurred when the four-term incumbent attempted to DVR three shows at once, thus causing him to make the difficult choice between Monday Night Football or WWE Raw on ESPN2 or the World's Strongest Man quarter-finals on Fox.


6:30 PM

Spot Check 

Voting: More Fun Than Mall Madness!

You think it's about shopping, but then it's about voting!

Thanks to the Internet, we can all see this very strange ad encouraging women to vote from the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee. The last woman in the booth seems to actually select a candidate at that moment, an act almost never seen in nature but very possible in this ad, where voting is an accessory removed from the world of meaning and context.

"Change Stuff," the tagline demands. A citizen might ask, "What?" Either the ad's creator, Jimmy Siegel, didn't get the memo that the slacker-apathy meme went out years ago or he was concerned that a smaller female brain capacity might be exhausted by the inclusion of any issue-oriented content.

Either way, ladies, consider yourself condescended to. That Gwen Stefani could have a hand in this really is troubling. She's been for girl power since 1996.

Voting Is Cool [Capitol Confidential]


5:53 PM

Spot Check 

Death and Taxes

The punch line of John Faso's new ad — "you can bank on the fact that Eliot Spitzer will raise your taxes, I will cut them" — is a little inside baseball. It riffs on Spitzer's own ad promising to cut taxes, which ends with Spitzer saying, "and you can take that to the bank." It isn't a phrase emblazoned on the minds of most New Yorkers, but it probably seems pretty universal if all you've been doing for the last three months is staying up nights watching Spitzer ads, reading of Spitzer doings, and occasionally scaring your attendants by yelling, "Damn that Spitzer! Damn his eternal soul!"

Excellent tax-cutting music though. Is this what Grover Norquist hears whenever he hits send on an e-press release from the Club for Growth?


5:15 PM

Spot Check 

Lamont's Campaign Stays the Course

Ned Lamont has a new ad attacking Joe Lieberman's parroting of Bush's "stay the course" line on Iraq, potentially a very incisive idea.

Lamont's version tweaks a Democratic National Committee ad that strings together Bush, Cheney, and White House press secretary Tony Snow repeating the phrase in dead-eyed repetition with Lieberman pasted in as the Fourth Top, harmonizing on an endless version of "The Same Old Song." Lieberman has used the phrase numerous times in the last two years, but the ad only shows one instance, a 2004 presidential debate that's looped three times.

Edited into a seemingly endless reel of Bush and Cheney drilling their one note home like minimalist martinets, Lieberman's bit cameo seems like a passing coincidence, which is exactly what Joe has been trying to argue. The end — where Lieberman and Bush both swear off ever having used the phrase — is damning, but it's hard to tell if it's a dunk on Lieberman or the Lamont campaign going to the well one time too many, playing their favorite oldie for a final blast of catharsis before the big chill sets in.

Lieberman & 'Stay the Course' [The Empire Zone]
New 'Stay the Course' Ad — Starring Joe Lieberman! [TPM Cafe]

12:33 PM

Spot Check 

Faso Ad Sad, Late

John Faso, not giving up against horrible odds, spends his last couch-cushion money on this attack ad linking Spitzer to Alan Hevesi, who almost gets as much screen time as Eliot himself.

The charge that Spitzer is going to the mat for the fallen Hevesi may be based on statements made in a debate that took place a month ago, and they're somewhat blunted now that Spitzer has dropped his endorsement of Hevesi. And Hevesi isn't exactly Spitzer's "running mate" to begin with, but it's a nice effort. Couple or three campaigns down the road, these Faso people are gonna be one well-oiled smearing machine.


6:21 PM

Spot Check 

Michael J. Fox Ad Stirs Jersey to Action

It would be a uniquely American irony if Alex P. Keaton, who taught a generation of young Republicans how to knot a tie, flipped Congress to the Democrats. It'd be an even greater irony if Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity helped. Yet, by making Michael J Fox's appeal for candidates supporting stem-cell research the biggest political story in the second-to-last week before the biggest off-year election in over a decade, they might have done just that.

Fox plans to appear with New Jersey's Robert Menendez, the Democratic candidate in one of the tightest Senate races in the country. To offset Hollywood stardom (and to make it all the harder for Menendez to take advantage of his small lead over Tom Kean Jr.), the National Republican Senatorial Committee just dropped $5 million dollars into New Jersey for the last two weeks of the race.

In a related story, Meredith Baxter's agent is presently getting an earful of "Why didn't you get me out front on clean coal!?"

NRSC to Invest As Much As $5M In New Jersey [The Hotline]


2:17 PM

Spot Check 

Home Is Where the Mud Is

The dogfight for the Twentieth Congressional is getting meaner and meaner by the nanosecond, with mud slung at rates rarely attempted in even the most heated contests. Now, even the candidates' families are being soiled.

The Kirsten Gillibrand campaign claims the John Sweeney campaign and its supporters have attacked her brother, husband, even her dear old granny. The Sweeney campaign says the Gillibrand campaign and its supporters have harassed his wife and kids with anonymous voice messages, e-mails, letters, and flyers.

The fracas has prompted Sweeney, the Republican incumbent, to attempt a political performance piece that's not entirely within his skill set: the personal appeal. The Sweeneys seem like fine, sweater-wearing folk who perhaps have not been in the same room together since Home Improvement got canceled. When the cue card reads "TURN TO HER WITH LOVING GAZE," Sweeney lands on something much closer to "uh, have we met?" Come to think of it, is that even the real Mrs. Sweeney or a "Mrs. Sweeney" the ad agency brought along for the shoot? Has Mrs. Sweeney been so traumatized by the Gillibrand campaign's intimidations and smears that she's gone into seclusion?

The Sweeney and Gillibrand campaigns have pursued decidedly different approaches in showing how much they hate the opposing side. Gillibrand's ads have riffed on Hollywood movies and crafted improv-troupe-style skits to take shots at her adversary. Sweeney gets the mothers of dead solders to speak for him. But here it seems the down-home-authenticity thing has hoisted Candidate Soft-Tough on his own folksy petard.

Watch "No Honor" [John Sweeney for Congress]
Yeah, and So's Your Mother [Capitol Confidential]


6:15 PM

Spot Check 

New RNC Ad Pushing Up Daisies

The new Republican National Committee ad "The Stakes" (set to air this weekend) returns to the familiar theme of "vote for us or you will perish in a hellish firestorm." It's subtle stuff.

The securers of the homeland have placed their spot in the tradition of LBJ's Daisy ad from the 1964 presidential campaign, in which a little girl (of questionable math skills) picks petals off a flower as a voice counts down to a nuclear explosion. "The Stakes" punctuates a string of scary Al Qaeda pictures with a big mushroom cloud, implying anything is permissible as long as the other side kinda did it once.

Still, the equivalency is a little off. LBJ was indeed fearmongering, though he also ended with the amazingly open-souled message that "we must either love each other or we must die." It'd be hard to make an argument that "the Stakes" is anything more than a nihilist Hail Mary — the Osama Now wing of the Democratic party being hard to find or at least very, very sneaky.

Also, why so much reading? If someone is dumb enough to fall for this, is he really the subtitle type? Somewhere between the Film Forum and a Hooters in Dubuque, there is an audience for this ad. If they can also pull a lever, maybe the homeland will survive.

Watch the ad. [RNC]

4:58 PM

Spot Check 

Cuomo Channels Spitzer

In a new advertisement from the Andrew Cuomo camp, the Democratic candidate for attorney general mentions Eliot Spitzer at least 6,000 times. As though by repeating the name, Cuomo could become Spitzer. In his debate with Pirro, Cuomo used the Spitzer strategy of answering every attack with a list of his successes. (On Cuomo's list: My dad got me a job in the Clinton administration.) When Spitzer is asked about actual future policy proposals, he can go on for days. Cuomo had a hard time filling 30 seconds.


6:25 PM

Spot Check 

Have One on Al

Tonight is the 61st Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, a gala event benefiting Catholic charities held annually at the Waldorf-Astoria. All the stars of New York politics will be out and shining like jewels. We just got the list of who's at our table, and it appears we're sitting between an H. Clinton and an E. Spitzer. Hope they like to party, cuz we're planning on getting d-runk 2 nite!

Here's some pregame action courtesy of the Internet Archive: Al Smith Toasts the Passing of Prohibition. The Happy Warrior was the most prominent "wet" of his day. During the 1928 presidential campaign, his gravely voice was often referred to as "whiskey breath" by anti-immigrant demagogues who feared the first Catholic presidential nominee might wash away their vision of Babbitt's America in a tide of rye and Romanism. In 1933, Al was an even happier warrior when the Eighteenth Amendment bit the barroom sawdust after thirteen years of tyranny over the American liver.


5:25 PM

Spot Check 

Hillary Brings Home the Bacon

Those of you who stay way from pork, be it for religious or health reasons, may wish not to view Hillary Clinton's new ad. It's a veritable feeding frenzy of good tidings she's brought home during her first term in the Senate — from 9/11 money to new jobs to highway construction to tax breaks. Boy, are we stuffed. But don't hit the StairMaster just yet, New Yorkers. We've still got two more years of living high on the hog before we're forced to dispatch a less skilled trough tender. Belly up.

Hillary for Senate


1:45 PM

Spot Check 

Low-Budget Political Horror in Twentieth District

The race in the upstate Twentieth Congressional District between Republican John Sweeney and Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand has already produced two classic ads — Gillibrand's homage to Good Night, and Good Luck's sense of "decency" and Sweeney's deployment of Iraq-war mom Kathy Brown.

A month ago, the race was a twenty-point romp for Sweeney, a well-insulated four-term incumbent in what used to be a "Safe Republican" stretch of the Hudson Valley. But that's changed as Gillibrand has succeeded in tying Sweeney to the Party of Foley.

In a new ad, Gillibrand seeks to solidify the Sweeney-Foley connection. It alludes to a frat party Sweeney attended at Schenectady's Union College in April, where he was photographed looking at least a couple too many Milwaukee's Bests in while locked in an arm-on-shoulder 'I love you, man' jock hug with various ox boys. The campus newspaper reported that Sweeney seemed drunk, which he denied. But even if the spot is kind of a Mad TV reject reel, it takes realist guts to use young people in an ad that suggests your opponent shares a creepy streak with a guy who actually used young people.


1:35 PM

Spot Check 

Foley Gift Wasted on Upstate Democrats

For decades, the Democratic party and its fellow travelers have complained they were the victims of vicious, unfounded attacks at the hands of a vast, shadowy, well-funded Republican hate machine. They've seen their candidates compared to terrorists, they've nominated war heroes who are later denounced as cowards, they've been called friends of criminals, enemies of family, flag soilers, and God besmirchers. All the while, sitting idly by, mumbling sheepishly into their elite East Coast lattes: "Man, those Republicans got it goin' on."

With the Foley scandal, the Democrats have a chance to take a whack at one of the sweetest hanging curve balls ever wafted across the slime-caked plate. It's time to give this whole politics-of-personal-destruction thing a ride.

Jack Davis, the self-made millionaire gunning for Tom Reynolds's congressional seat, has released his first ad since Le Affaire Foley, an ever-widening debacle in which upstate representative Reynolds plays a major supporting role as the Man Who Knew Too Much, Did Too Little, and Blamed It All on His Boss.

Pitch. Swing. Whiff. It would seem the target for this ad is people who plan to vote but consume no news. All the information that blurs by in an easy-to-follow flurry of headlines is stuff anyone who's walked past a radio in the last two weeks already knows — that Reynolds falsely claimed not to know about Foley's e-mails, that he urged him to seek reelection, that as RNCC head he took Foley's contributions to fund Republican House races. Terrible stuff, indeed, but a feast of filth we've already savored and digested. Set against Reynolds's jarring and creepy but memorably "emo," straight-talking mea culpa that ran last week, it's a waste of Davis's money. He paid for the same Happy Meal twice.

Hey, David ad people — would it really have been such a hassle to track down a picture of Foley and Reynolds smugly shaking hands and superimpose it over a frolicking young boy? Would it have put you out that much to reenact a smutty IM being sent? Or to soft-focus on a pile of tainted campaign cash or, better yet, the face of a worried mother sending her teenage son off to D.C. for his first summer internship? C'mon fellas, get in the game. There's a lot up for grabs here. It's man time! Well, actually, it's 16-year-old boy time. But anyway, you get the idea.

Davis on Air [The Daily Politics]

11:35 AM

Spot Check 

Bad Ads Thrive Across This Great Land

This week's issue of New York Magazine examines some of the country's most contentious races in "The Mud Report." In compiling some exemplary campaign spots from these exciting contests, we've learned to translate the ad idioms that vary from state to state. And we found that mischaracterizations, overreaching rhetoric, and folksy hokum are essential ingredients of every American campaign.

Here, Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum takes one on the chin from the bomb-throwers over at Vote Kids. You gotta admit, the guy seems to hate the hell out of children.

Turning our attention to Montana, we find Democrat John Tester working on similar empathies in hope of unseating Senator Conrad Burns. This ad highlights Burns's suggestion that outsourcing would allow working moms to stay at home with their kids.

Anti-mom, anti-kid. These Republicans have got to go. But who will replace them? Let's hope not an Al Qaeda–loving loon like Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, who's gunning for the Senate seat of staunchly pro-America incumbent Mike Dewine.

No matter who is in power, it looks like the Senate is doomed. So how are things in the House?

Arizona Republican Randy Graf has been singled out as too extreme by his own party — and that's in a state where not wanting to land-mine the border makes you a wussy liberal. Luckily, Arizonans have another choice in distinguished state senator and able horsewoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Lastly, it isn't always an opponent that can hobble your candidacy. Sometimes a seemingly innocuous ad can come back to haunt you. Here's all the proof you need that Indiana Republican representative John Hostettler is little more than a puppet of the mighty "emergency-band radio" lobby. Will Hoosiers stand for another two years of having their best interests set aside while Big Emergency-Band Radio holds the state hostage? Democratic challenger Brad Ellsworth hopes not.


11:40 AM

Spot Check 

Jeanine of Arc

In Jeanine Pirro's new ad, all that's missing is the Joan of Arc costume and the CGI flames. In just 30 seconds, she effortlessly transitions from victim to avenger — call it a Pirro-uette.

A couple of Pirro's claims are sketchy — the Feds have not commented on the status of their ongoing investigation, and the notion of Andrew Cuomo offering "amnesty to criminals" is not accurate. But as the Real World-esque spot goes, this is Daytime Emmy material. Pirro won't apologize for anything; in fact, it's you the viewer who should be apologizing for even thinking about counting her out.

That said, the massive stack of paperwork behind her is kind of daunting. Hope that isn't DNA evidence she never found time to look over while she was off bugging the family boat.

10/ 9/06

12:00 PM

Spot Check 

Reynolds Captivated by ‘Real World’ Marathon

"Looking back, more should've been done, and for that I am sorry." So ends Tom Reynolds's first post-Foley ad, which began running in his Buffalo district over the weekend. Though it's no "Morning in America," it is the latest in a new genre of campaign spot: Real World confessional.

In 59 seconds, Reynolds goes from resolute to wronged to confused to contrite, playing with facts and blaming his Housemates, all to mealy unsympathetic effect. Don Sherwood, a Pennsylvania congressman embroiled in his own sex scandal, released one exactly like Reynolds's last week.

The genre has roots in Nixon's "Checkers" speech. But there's no lovable dog or devoted wife in the frame to humanize Reynolds, just some liberally applied tanning spray and the truth-extracting eye of the camera. If Bill Clinton had given this a throw during Monica, he would have had a 400 percent approval rating. A nasally backbencher from Buffalo, not so much.

10/ 5/06

5:10 PM

Spot Check 

GOP's New Policy of Sexual Openness

Okay, you've finished painting your FREE TOM REYNOLDS signs. You've made your picnic lunch. And you're ready for the nine-hour drive to Buffalo. But which route to take? If you cut through northeast Pennsylvania, you'll be passing through portions of the Tenth Congressional District, host to this election cycle's second most depressing scandal.

In 2004, a woman accused four-term Republican congressman Don Sherwood of strangling her in his D.C. apartment. Sherwood claimed he was giving her a back rub. Last year, the victim, 29-year-old Cynthia Ore, filed a $5.5 million lawsuit, claiming the 64-year-old Sherwood assaulted her numerous times during a five-year relationship. Sherwood admits the affair happened, but he's denied the assault took place. He released this soul-eating apology to his constituents on Wednesday, prior to a debate with his opponent.

Watch the ad.

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.


10:00 AM

Spot Check 

Faso Asks Upstaters to Cut Lights Before Fleeing

In another state, John Faso would be the guy with money. He's a Republican. A lawyer. He considers Eliot Spitzer's crusade against corporate corruption bad for business, and he's proposed a sweeping Bushian tax overhaul.

Instead, his war chest could barely fund a game of Battleship — as of July 15, the Faso campaign had $1.4 million; Spitzer reported $8.5 million on September 22 — and his first ad is a study in anti-capitalist aesthetics.

A lone lightbulb dangles in a dank basement that might double as an anarchist squat. A woman's warning voice lists Spitzer's intended sins — increased spending and higher taxes — that will further lay waste to the upstate economy. "If Eliot Spitzer gets his way, it may be time for the last one in upstate New York to turn out the light." Click. Darkness. Not exactly a vision of hope and promise for a better tomorrow, but upstate fearmongering is a necessary element of any New York campaign.

On a side note, who or what is The Last One? And is there anything we can do personally to help him, her, or it in this apparent time of crisis?