Coming Soon to Your Swing District: The Nice Guy Ad

Arizona's tight House race experiences the return of a chintzy, effective ad trope.

Martha McSally has been one of the GOP's favorite prospects to win a Democratic House seat for most of the cycle; she's one of the few to be touted by The New York Times, in a feature about Republican efforts to elect more women. Her newest ad will probably be touted if she wins, too, as it borrows the lessons of the pre-super-PAC era and applies them to candidates who want to rise above the din. In it, she beams herself into Democratic Representative Ron Barber's commercials with a darkly-lit, desperate narrator casting accusations that she can rebut in real time.

Some of what the "ad guy" is saying is actually based on Barber spots. In one, the Democrat described McSally's promise to "stop having federal loans that are piling up that then raise the cost of tuition" as a promise to "end student loans." McSally's response: Nuh-uh. That attack is joined with obvious slanders, like McSally's alleged hatred of "puppies," which she rebuts by cuddling a canine. It's a tribute/borrowing from an eight-year old spot from Michael Steele, when he was a Senate candidate in Maryland, before he was a Republican National Committee chairman that party insiders worked to oust (even as he presided over a huge election).

The "hey, it's just us talking about those horrible ads" theme has since been picked up by third party groups. Barber's district is one of the targets for Americans for Prosperity's campaign ads in which handsome people apologize for invading your TV again, then remind you that you can't fire President Barack Obama immediately but you can get rid of [local congressman].

In the context of Barber's race, spots like this are meant to make the Democrat look not just desperate but despicable. What kind of guy would inject so many negative ads into your screens? What kind of candidate would refuse to condemn an ad, from the gun safety group founded by Gabby Gifford (the former occupant of the seat), that told voters about a horrible double murder and informed them that Martha McSally "opposes making it harder for stalkers to get a gun"? Steele's ads didn't really work for him in a deep-blue state in a Democratic year, but there are really no competitive 2014 races on turf like Maryland. If you're confident that voters in your swing district have already been disgusted and terrified all year, it's easy to sweep in and be the nice guy against the heel.

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