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Cookie cutter campaigns [Commentary]

Thousands of miles on the road this summer and fall have afforded me the opportunity to observe a variety of political ads from across the spectrum. Herewith, observations from the heartland:

I assume the relentless Democratic campaign to demonize the conservative Koch Brothers and their "Americans for Prosperity" organization has been poll tested, but I still don't get it. Driving negatives against someone (or something) that few people recognize violates a core tenet of political advertising. Nevertheless, a relentless indictment of all things Koch proceeds apace due to AFP's continuing criticism of Obamacare in states where vulnerable Democratic incumbents are on the ballot. (FYI: As of July, total spending on all Obamacare ads was estimated at $445 million — with negative ads outpacing positive ones 15-to-one.) Interestingly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's anger at the profligate spending on the right does not extend to profligate spending on the left, where the likes of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, global warming "expert" Tom Steyer, and zillionaire progressive George Soros (among many others) have spent millions to prop up those same vulnerable Democrats.

Much of the political television advertising is cookie cutter stuff. On the Democratic side, Republican candidate (fill-in-the-blank) would take abortion rights back to the dark ages. And, by the way, he/she and the GOP really do not care for the elderly and the poor — and don't forget their war on women. Oh, and if there is a problem with Obamacare, we can "fix it" — not discard it! Conversely, Republican attack ads confirm that the incumbent Democrat (fill-in-the-blank) was the vote that passed Obamacare, voted to put us in debt to the tune of $17 trillion, and would continue U.S. reliance on foreign sources of oil rather than achieve energy independence through additional drilling and the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Oh, and he/she has no desire to enforce border security. All-in-all, pretty standard (and not very deep) fare that we have come to expect. And please don't tell me you just hate those negative ads; they usually work, particularly where one candidate can carpet bomb an opponent with heavy advertising in the local television market.

To the dismay of the anti-gun crowd, red and purple state candidates (from both parties) are touting their pro-Second Amendment stances. Many of the ads are of the in-your-face variety, wherein the candidate is pictured against a rural background with a handy shotgun in tow. The most noteworthy of these features Iowa GOP Senate candidate Joni Ernst, who manages to combine two base driving messages into one ad by firing a bullseye at a target before turning to the camera and promising to "unload" on Obamacare. (Man, how we miss such theater in dead blue states like Maryland!) Although these generally pro-gun ads may antagonize some base Democratic voters and affiliated groups, most of them understand that anti-gun positions are not terribly popular in southern and western states where marginal Democrats must run for office and where firearms are more a part of the local culture. In any event, it is clear that America's present preoccupation with killing terrorists abroad while protecting ourselves at home has frozen the president's campaign for further gun control.

It is still difficult to see how/if our latest military engagement in the Middle East will play out on the first Tuesday of November. The ads are silent to date, but that could change with dramatic positive or negative news from the front. What is clear is the 180-degree turn the American people have performed since the depth of ISIS depravity began to play out on American television screens. GOP candidates have been supportive of the president's air campaign to date, albeit with the question of whether an air campaign alone will crush a surging terrorist army. Mr. Obama's purposeful elimination of U.S. "boots on the ground" as a future option will most certainly be the focus of Republican talking points over the next four weeks. A dovish Democratic base has been muted in its criticism during the initial stages of America's newest limited war, but drawing comparisons to Bush era foreign policy is no way to generate grassroots turnout for November 4th. Still, Democratic interest will not diminish so long as the "no ground troops" commitment is kept.

Latest from the front lines: Republicans should be able to count on five Senate pick-ups (Georgia, New Hampshire, Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia) come election night. But the majority-making sixth seat must come from one of the battleground races (Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado, Alaska, Michigan) where the above cited funders and their "Super PACs" are spending big bucks to protect Mr. Reid's majority.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around" and "America: Hope for Change" — books about national politics. His email is ehrlichcolumn@gmail.com.


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