Turnout predictions for Saturday’s gubernatorial primary are low, and for those who’ve been following along on television, it’s not hard to guess why there’s not much enthusiasm. The ads have been relentless, and relentlessly negative, to the point where the whole campaign seems to have blurred into one prolonged sneer.
There were a few bright spots on the airwaves, though, several ads that were both effective and — dare I say — positive.
The best of the lot came from state Rep. John Bel Edwards, who is running as a conservative, anti-abortion Democrat. It’s narrated by his wife, who recounts the couple’s decision to carry her pregnancy to term, despite a doctor’s recommendation that she get an abortion following a diagnosis of spina bifida. After Donna Edwards describes her husband’s determination to have and love the child, the ad ends with a shot of their now-grown daughter and the news that she’s engaged to be married.
This wasn’t groundbreaking stuff, but the ad came off as sincere, and it painted Edwards as a strong, stand-up guy. It was designed to appeal to voters who might have qualms about supporting a Democrat but was also unlikely to alienate those who favor abortion rights but don’t have a like-minded horse in the race; after all, it was all about a wrenching choice made by a family, not the government, and Edwards has established himself elsewhere as the only candidate who’s not out to shut down Planned Parenthood.
Another strong ad may count as an attack, but it didn’t rely on cheap shots. It was aired by Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle’s affiliated Super PAC and documented U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s very public reversal on the Common Core education standards.
The narrator didn’t have to suggest anything illicit, because Vitter himself went on camera and first declared himself a strong supporter and, later, an avid opponent. All the PAC had to do was compile the footage. Still, the carefully crafted ad’s producers added a clever second element when they had the narrator declare that “we all know David Vitter breaks his word,” unlike Angelle, who is “faithful to his word.” Way to invoke the memory of Vitter’s prostitution scandal without coming out and saying it.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne’s best ads, meanwhile, featured him talking straight to the camera as he indirectly refutes the attacks Vitter ran against him, as well as the nasty tone of Vitter’s campaign. In one such spot, Dardenne declares himself sick of “Washington-style politics.”
“They make ads to scare us and bully us. … They say and do anything except to solve problems,” he says. Dardenne’s optimistic message? We’re better than this, and I’ll be better than this.
What’s missing from this best ad list, obviously, is a strong Vitter commercial, despite the overwhelming financial advantage he and his Super PAC enjoyed.
One spot featuring Vitter’s wife, Wendy, vouching for him might have reassured some people, although the happy family shots are just as likely to be off-putting. Face it. Nobody’s voting for Vitter because he’s the most wholesome guy around.
And as a whole, Vitter’s campaign was generally hostile and combative in tone and overly focused on questionable allegations about his two Republican opponents rather than his own ideas or credentials. These ads may well work, but they certainly don’t inspire. Nor, for that matter, did the ads from several outside Super PACS largely funded by trial lawyers that zeroed in on Vitter’s scandal. There wasn’t anything inspirational, either, in the Republican Governors Association attack ad against Edwards for, among other things, wanting to “expand Obamacare in Louisiana.”
Yes, Edwards favors finally accepting the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion to tap into federal dollars and insure the state’s working poor. But so do his Republican opponents, even if they frame their positions somewhat differently. And so do some of the state’s most influential business and good government groups.
In short, the ad is just another instance of a cynical trend in Louisiana politics, to link candidates to unpopular President Barack Obama. It started back in 2010, when Vitter ran for re-election to the U.S. Senate and has not only continued but spread to local and state races, in which the candidate’s relationship with the president is basically irrelevant.
Kind of makes you wonder what all these ad writers will do once Obama leaves office after next year’s election. After sitting through yet another season of ugly insinuations, I, for one, can’t wait to find out.
Stephanie Grace can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @stephgracenola.