It’s polling day in America. Frankly, there isn’t much left to say. $2.6bn dollars have been spent. No one really knows who is going to win. And there isn’t much anyone can do to affect the outcome. So while we wait for the results I thought I’d post a little election day fun, and link to the best adverts I’ve seen this season. (I said in a previous post that i'd also make a brief argument that such ads should be allowed on UK TV. That argument should be appearing on Comment is Free sometime soon. But I figured political obsessives at Progress might just prefer to see the ads themselves.)
That said, here is a selection of the most amusing, outlandish and controversial ads from this years American elections. I've avoided the vast majority, most of which are of the "i'm a good guy who believes in families" or "my opponent voted to support the terrorists" variety. Some are downright scurrilous. Some stretch the truth. Others break it entirely. And some are quite brilliant. I’m not sure that critics of American ads will be entirely persuaded by this selection. Nonetheless, they are the most interesting and memorable i've seen. And, as i argue at the guardian, i see no especially good reason why we should not allow (with appropriate restrictions) similar ads in the UK.
The prize for the single funniest ad goes to Massachusetts independent candidate Christy Mihos, for his perfectly convincing explanation of why Boston’s Big Dig construction project cost $12bn. Its laugh out loud funny, and frankly not far off the mark.
My vote for the best ads overall go to Republican Michael Steele. Steele has run a great campaign for the Maryland Senate race. He is still likely to lose, but then there are twice as many Democrats as Republicans in the state. Nonetheless his ads showed that a fresh, relaxed and funny approach could connected with voters. And his “Puppy spot was especially good, and earned a sharp response from Democrats.
The nastiest spot was a toss up between Vernon Robinson and Kerry Healey. Robinson is an extreme right wing African American republican from North Carolina, known for poisonous commercials. Perhaps we should expect no better from a man known to boast “Jesse Helms is back, but this time he's black.” This ad shows just how low you can go. Healey, on the other hand, ran both a highly negative and notably unsuccessful campaign to become Massachusetts Governor. Her ad is no less reprehensible, and plays clearly off racial fears.
The weirdest? Step forward outgoing - and yes, that is a sweet thing to say - Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. His WWF-style wrestling Ad is very odd indeed. Watch what happens when he mentions Hillary Clinton. It sort of works. I think.
The gong for most controversial, and also perhaps the most effective judging by the polls, goes to the “Harold, Call Me” spot, run by the Republican National Committee in support of Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. So slimy was the ad seen to be that Corker himself asked for it to be taken down. Nonetheless, is he wins tonight he can credit it with saving his campaign. Before it went up Corker was slipping fast. After it he rebounded. Why? Frankly, i'm not persuaded that ad is playing on racial fears - and it's actually very funny. Judge for yourself. Mind you, Ford himself also ran effective adverts, including his "church" spot in which he successfully promoted his stance on faith and morals.
Democrats weren't shy about putting up fighting ads either. In particular they went balls out this cycle to fight back on security and terror. Harold Ford, again, took the lead. Good examples would include his ads on "terrorist amnesty" and the "UK terror plot.
But i was most struck by the pro-demcorat VoteVets series. Both their widely used "Body Armour" spot, and the latest "because of Iraq" spot featuring Wesley Clark, are extremely effective. These show a concerted effort not to allow the Republicans to paint the Dems as weak on defence, something the GOP would surely otherwise have done.
And last, but not least, the advert that most effectively brought an issue to national attention was without doubt Michael J Fox's powerful series on Stem Cells. This should be a classic wedge issue for Democrats. Almost all Democrats agree on this issue, but Republicans are deeply divided. Yet before Fox's ad, the issue was nowhere. Then the combination of the power of the ads combined with Rush Limbaugh's callous idiocy, and this vital issue was being discussed by millions of Americans.
All in all, a bumper crop. Some good, some bad. Some nasty, some funny. But ultimately part of the richness of American campaigns. And something we should look seriously at allowing in the UK.