September 8th, 2010
11:50 AM ET

Offbeat ads offer window into the political Sliding Scale of Truth

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

I’m sitting at my computer watching a woman in Arizona shuffling through an array of firearms and emptying clip after clip into the desert. Terrorist? No. Tactical forces specialist? No. Republican candidate for Congress? Bet your sweet Beretta she is. And she’s not the only one packing iron as we head into this hell for leather midterm election.

We’ll get back to the would-be Laura Croft of Capitol Hill in a minute.

As much as the political crowd here in DC wails and gnashes George Washington’s wooden teeth over the idea that big money is corrupting our elections, when the votes are flying the big bucks are too, on both sides of the aisle. This midterm is no exception. Already spending in the ad chase is on track to break all the records. As a result, in Congressional districts coast to coast voters (meaning, uh…you) are being pounded with a wild array of commercials as everyone elbows for some attention.

Some are just memorable and fun, like the snappy little number out of Florida for Republican Mike Weinstein. In a dead ringer for a late 80’s music video, or the sequel to Footloose, you see a bunch of twenty-somethings dancing around to the infectious chorus “Mike, Mike, Mike Weinstein.” It doesn’t look like much on paper, but trust me it zips on video. The weakest part is actually the candidate himself whose appears only in still photos, giving the whole montage an unfortunate feeling of “sorry but our guy was devoured by bears before the commercial was done.”

Other more serious trends have emerged, and guns are one of them. Democrats and Republicans alike are seen clinging to their firearms; selling a mixture of down home values, self-reliance, and their commitment to a figurative if not literal war on Washington. The woman I mentioned at the start is Pamela Gorman and in between her Annie Oakley impersonations, the announcer in her commercial suggests her shooting skills will make her into a legislative sniper for the good of her constituents.

“This year,” he says, “a lot of folks think this is our best shot at changing Congress. Of course, that all depends on the caliber of our candidates.” Pull! Cute, huh? Well, not cute enough. She was blown away in the Republican primary. That may cool the interest in gun ads, but for now they are blazing away.

Another theme: Political amnesia. With Democratic poll numbers falling, especially in regard to the overwhelmingly top issue of the economy, many Democratic candidates are airing ads that suggest they either don’t know their party is in power, or don’t realize they are a member.

Think about this: Health care reform was the signature issue of President Obama’s first year in office and well over 200 Democrats voted to pass it. And yet we can’t find a single TV commercial since April in which a Democratic candidate talks about supporting that measure. We found plenty of ads like Joe Donnelly’s, however, which do not even mention the candidate is a Democrat.

"Joe Donnelly is Indiana's most independent Congressman. Joe opposed President Bush's attempts to privatize Social Security and voted against Nancy Pelosi's energy tax on Hoosier families…Joe Donnelly is the independent voice who protects Hoosier families."

Notice how the word “independent” keeps cropping up, while his record of voting the Democratic Party line about 87 percent of the time is nowhere to be seen.

Which brings us to the Republicans. They know that they are still not exactly on the greatest hits list for a lot of voters, so they are certainly not bringing up George Bush. But they are talking about a president: Barack Obama. They are convinced that he is a millstone around the necks of the Democrats, so they are hanging his name on every opposing candidate they can.

An ad in Georgia’s governor’s race has these ominous words over shadowy outlines of President Obama: “One man ruled with an iron fist, giving us politics and laws we did not want and did not support…Think we're talking about Barack Obama? We're not. We're talking about former governor Roy Barnes.” Never mind that Barnes is currently running away from President Obama like a Falcon’s receiver. Pictures of Barnes and the president are then lined up alongside each other like something from a rogue’s gallery, and the announcer delivers the coup de grace. “Can Georgia really afford more of the same?"

I could ask the same question on behalf of all of us who will be pelted by political ads between now and November. What I definitely will be asking on a daily basis is this: Which ads are accurate, which are misleading and which might even qualify as outright lies? Call it the Sliding Scale of Truth. We’ll let you know what we discover.

Editor’s note: Check back on CNN.com every day for Tom Foreman’s latest take on this year’s political ads.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Raw Politics • Tom Foreman
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Truth Man

    And just what in the world would be an "on-beat" message? Everything is fine and rosy?

    September 8, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
  2. Paul Sharoff

    With ads telling you different ideas constantly, it can become hard to really realize the truth. Most of the time, you can tell down right lies or when someone is trying tio spin something. However, it sometimes gets hard to peal back the layers and really get to the truth. If you want to really understand what is going on, look up the person's record. It is very public.
    I currently reside in Maryland, there is a Govenors race, county executives races. Mostly, I pay attention to national and state issues, not local. But, this year I choose to look into the local aspect some. I've seen the ads on TV, even meet a one of the county executive candidates at the state faire. Although, it was a good experience, I was not satisphied. I wanted to know more, so I went on a few websites trying ti find anything I could. Through about an hour of looking around, I found a lot of information and I know who I am going to vote for.

    September 8, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
  3. Jeanette

    It would be refreshing to know what they really vote for and really want to do to help our country. I don't even listen to these stupid ads, they are all lies. We need the truth but obviously they don't know how to tell us the truth and don't want to. I want to vote against anyone who has a negative ad, but they all have them so that makes it impossible.

    September 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm |