Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Opening Salvo: A Look At The First Anti-Santorum Ad in Michigan

This is "Votes," the newly unleashed Anti-Santorum attack ad from Romney's SuperPAC Restore Our Future. Is it hard hitting? Will it "Make your TV Bleed?" Let's look.

The Ad
At a svelte 33 seconds long it's designed to make viewers question his legislative record. It opens abruptly with a zooming image of the Capitol Building with an obviously photo-shopped in Santorum-face in one of the windows (or, perhaps, they wish us to believe it's a real image and Rick Santorum is some kind of mutant-giant?).

"How did Rick Santorum actually Vote?" asks the female narrator as the words appear on the screen (Words in orange text appear underlined here). "Actually?" As opposed to ... what? As opposed to how we're supposed to think he voted? It isn't clear. Then we get the bullet points:

  • Santorum voted to raise the debt limit 5 times. A Santorum-head overlays the national debt clock striking the 15th Trillionth dollar in debt.
  • And he voted for billions in wasteful projects (dollar bills with a golden dollar coin background) including The Bridge To Nowhere (we get a flash image of a bridge--but not the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere ... which was never built. I wonder which bridge should be suing for libel?)
  • In a single session Santorum sponsored 51 bills to increase spending! An electronic clock counts up from about 20 to 51 while a sneering Santorum holds a microphone and extends his hand, obviously calling for support. ... And zero (a digital zero appears) to cut spending.
  • Santorum even voted to raise his own pay (a fan of dollars rotates  behind a predatory looking Rick image)
  • "And joined Hillary Clinton to let convicted felons vote!" A smug looking Hillary looks over a frowning Rick's shoulder--they are super imposed over a prison hall where jumpsuit clad felons walk--seen only from the posterior down due to the camera's on-the-floor position.
  • Then we're back to the capitol building image with the huge Santorum-head in the window and the Capitol building fades to black and we get Rick with his finger up. "Rick Santorum: Big Spender Washington Insider."
Then the Restore Our Future boiler plate.

What Does It Mean?
The 30-second window means it can be used easily in any slot that will take a political ad. As Team Romney has 1.5 Million in air-time buy, I assume that means they will be filling all available space. With only 30-seconds to make the pitch, though, they have to be quick.

The part of this they didn't miss is that there is no shortage of unfortunate Rick Santorum facial expressions. When he is happy, he looks smug. When he is angry, he looks petulant. When he's trying to make a point, he looks like he's sneering at you. The ever-present Rick-Santorum-Face may be the best part of this ad.

Beyond that, it's so standard and even cookie-cutter it's hard to believe it came from the best funded SuperPAC in existence. The narrator pretty much just reads the text. The choice of orange is boggling. Yes, against the generally black background it's a spooky Halloween color but often the background are greenish (being money images). The effect is clashing.

The opening may be done to grab interest but it left me thinking I'd only seen part of the ad. I actually went to the Romney PAC home-page to see if I could get "the whole thing." When the ad wasn't there I had to go back to YouTube and hunt around. I don't think that's the effect they were going for. 

The information payload seems to be designed to hit deficit hawks hardest (it opens with the debt-limit, one of the least controversial spending increases) and then tries to drive a wedge with the Tea Party specifically by putting Santorum up against Sarah Palin who famously stopped the Bridge to Nowhere. We don't know anything else about his bills or wasteful projects beyond that and the ad can't tell us anything. After that it kind of peters out with the 51 number (is that high? It sounds high. Should I be worried?) and then the segues into Clinton and felons thing for no apparent reason.

In fact, using Hillary Clinton borders on absurd considering that she is more popular than either Santorum or Romney right now.

The attack ad is a scatter-shot attempt that is almost amateurish in its composition. It opens weakly and wraps up inconsistently. The meat of it is very thin and obviously pandering (are people still upset about the Bridge to Nowhere? I doubt it--as Sarah is friendly with Santorum I see no reason why anyone else should care).

What Do I Think?
I think one of three things is happening here:
  1. It's a weak attempt is to break up the Santorum Coalition (the Tea Party and Blue Collar Workers). As such they have to hit the deficit and some blue-collar concerns like crime but the fusion of the two didn't go well together (and, really, Hillary was strong with Democratic blue collar workers)
  2. Team Romney is being so careful about "vetting" Santorum without diminishing Romney's favorable ratings that they're reduced to being very vague and very basic. Certainly everything in here is fair game--but as such, none of it is controversial or especially hard-hitting either.
  3. This is part 1. Part 2 is going to be "hitting his record didn't work--but hey, we tried--so now we're going against his So-Con cred." I don't think this would actually indemnify Romney in an attack-from-the-left scenario but who knows.
There's also: (4) they had almost no time and had to get something out there right away, dammit. Time was wasting. They had a CGI Capitol building and a giant Santorum-head image and just went with it.

Either way, I don't see this as being either especially hard hitting or especially well put together.

Grade: D

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