Air Wars: O'Donnell's first TV ad was effective, but too close to the election

Delaware Republican Christine O'Donnell has said she regrets opening her Senate campaign with a TV ad in which she tells viewers, "I'm not a witch."

But, according to a survey of political insiders that Wilson Research Strategies conducted for The Hill, the ad was memorable and effective, although the timing of its release may be trouble for O'Donnell.

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"You know, I haven't publicly stated this," she told ABC News in an interview this week. "But our intention was to kill it. And that's not what happened."

It’s the timing of the ad — so close to Election Day — that spells trouble for the campaign.

“The problem for O’Donnell is that while the ad may work, to need an ad like this so close to the election highlights how big a problem she faces,” said Chris Wilson, a consultant with Wilson Research Strategies. “Right now she should be using all of her resources to take the fight to Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenators introduce bipartisan bill restricting police use of facial recognition tech Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Bill Gates visits Capitol to discuss climate change with new Senate caucus MORE, but she can’t because she’s in a position where this kind of ad is necessary.”

Instead, Wilson noted, "She's playing defense while behind by double digits in a blue state."

Another Senate candidate who was hoping to make a splash with a memorable TV ad was Louisiana Democratic Rep. Charlie Melancon.

The congressman went up in September with a two-minute-long ad that targeted Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterRed-state governor races put both parties on edge Louisiana Republicans score big legislative wins Trump calls on Republicans to vote out Democratic Louisiana governor amid GOP infighting MORE's (R-La.) entanglement in a 2007 prostitution scandal. "Caught up with prostitution scandals in Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, a Louisiana politician has been let off the hook," the announcer says in the spot.

That ad scored very well on strength of message, memorability and "buzzworthiness" among self-identified Democratic and independent respondents. It was generally seen as credible, although independents found the content unappealing.

"If David Vitter were going to lose this year, this is the only message that would cause that to happen," Wilson said. "The question for Charlie Melancon isn’t whether this ad will work, it’s whether it will work well enough for him to win a race in which he is way behind."

There's some evidence the ad was effective in changing voters' minds. After trailing by double digits for much of the race, an Anzalone Liszt Research (D) poll released on Wednesday had Vitter leading by only three points. A recent Magellan Data & Mapping Strategies survey, however, had Vitter up 51 percent to 35.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, NFL officials weren't the only ones upset with Sen. Russ Feingold’s (D-Wis.) recent TV ad.

Feingold's ad shows a series of football players celebrating after scores, then accuses Republican Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonWhite House releases rough transcript of early Trump-Ukraine call minutes before impeachment hearing Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens Overnight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban MORE of engaging in "excessive celebration" because he leads Feingold in polls.

The ad clearly uses 2005 footage of Minnesota Vikings receiver Randy Moss pretending to moon the crowd after a crucial score in a playoff game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Fox NFL commentator Joe Buck can also be heard stating, "That is a disgusting act." That drew a complaint from the NFL.

"Insiders did not like this ad," Wilson said. "It rated below average on every measure we tested. In particular, they found the message to be weak and ineffective."

Since the ad started airing earlier this month, Feingold has continued to trail Johnson. A recent St. Norbert College Survey Center poll found the Republican ahead 49 percent to 47, but the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent. An Oct. 12 Rasmussen poll had Johnson leading by seven points.

--Jordan Fabian contributed to this report

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.