McCain rebounds to score big with Hayworth ‘huckster’ campaign ad

Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) “danged fence” ad was widely panned earlier this year, but his more recent “huckster” television spot is attracting rave reviews.

McCain’s ad labeled former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) a “huckster” for appearing in an infomercial for a company that promised customers “free money” grants from the government.

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McCain’s ad was rated the most effective in a survey of political insiders Wilson Research Strategies conducted for The Hill.

“The McCain campaign’s ad attacking J.D. Hayworth was the strongest across the board,” said Alexander Brunk, who directed the survey for Wilson Research Strategies.

As part of an ongoing feature called Air War, the group e-mails campaign or issue ads to survey participants, who view the ads and rate their effectiveness on several criteria.

“Respondents of all political parties felt like it [McCain’s “huckster” ad] was memorable and effective,” Brunk said.

In May, Republicans and Democrats bashed McCain’s “danged fence” ad, in which the Arizona senator called for the completion of a border barrier that he had previously criticized. Joe Scarborough, a former Republican lawmaker and now MSNBC host, mocked the TV spot on his “Morning Joe” show.

While the “danged fence” ad arguably is more memorable than the “huckster” ad, the “huckster” ad has had more of an impact.

A poll conducted after the ads went up on the air showed McCain pulling ahead of Hayworth. McCain got 64 percent of the test vote, compared to only 19 percent for Hayworth, in a Rocky Mountain Poll by the Phoenix-based Behavior Research Center released last week. Surveys from before the ads started airing in June showed Hayworth trailing by around 10 points.

McCain’s advertising is being produced by California-based Republican consultant Fred Davis.

Some candidates, such as Alabama Republican Dale Peterson, have produced popular TV ads this cycle, but Peterson failed to make the runoff in the Alabama agriculture commissioner GOP primary despite running a TV ad that got more than 1.6 million views on YouTube. Alabama House candidate Rick Barber had a similar experience.

Before the June 1 primary, Barber released a minute-long TV ad that featured him yelling about being taxed without representation to a group of men dressed as America’s Founding Fathers. The ad closed with an actor dressed as a young George Washington murmuring, “Gather your armies.” It generated national attention, though it drew little inside the district.

Barber made it into the July 13 runoff vote, during which he released a Web ad that equates taxation to slavery and features an actor playing Abraham Lincoln. However, he subsequently lost to Montgomery City Councilwoman Martha Roby (R).

“Just having a great ad that creates a buzz isn’t enough in and of itself,” said Chris Wilson, a Republican pollster with Wilson Research Strategies. “Earned media just about your advertising is not enough to win an election.”

A deluge of issue advertising this cycle from groups affected by new federal legislation is expected to clutter the television airwaves and make it more challenging for candidates to get their message out.

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“Your message has to be clearer, crisper and more credible than it has in the past,” said Wilson.

 More than $1 billion has been spent on the midterm campaign, much of it on television advertising.

The Center for Public Integrity estimates the 2010 elections will cost about $3.7 billion in total. The group’s figure includes spending by Senate and House candidates, political parties, so-called 527 groups and independent expenditures on advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts by political action committees.

That’s the landscape candidates need to navigate to get their messages out.

“Your message has to be a lot stronger than it used to be — that’s particularly the case in Republican primaries” because the electorate is so fired up, Wilson said.

Wilson added that candidates need to be more credible in their ads.

The proliferation of blogs and 24-hour cable news increases the ways voters can ascertain whether a candidate’s ad is telling the truth.

“You now have a premium put on truth in political advertising,” Wilson said. “From an advertising standpoint, credibility is the most important facet.”


Working with The Hill for its Air War feature, Wilson Research Strategies e-mails campaign or issue ads to survey participants who view the ads and rate their effectiveness on several criteria.

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