Early Returns

New Campaign Ads Hint at Race to the Bottom

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

A fun story that surfaced Monday is a nice follow-up to mine about the nationalization of U.S. elections -- and perhaps gives some reason to worry as well.

This is the story of a truly awful campaign ad. It's for a House candidate in Virginia's 10th District -- one of the prime pickup opportunities for Democrats in 2018 and has therefore drawn a large field of Democratic candidates. It's a spoof, I guess, of "Top Gun," which concludes with the tone-deaf candidate leading a bar in a rousing rendition of ... oh, it doesn't matter. Either click through and watch it or not. I guarantee it's not worth it.

As I said after a terrific ad in a Kentucky House race, all of this is very new. Until recently, no one outside the district ever saw local House ads, and there simply were no House ads produced well over a year before the general election. The goal of such ads, good or bad, is to generate enough attention within the national party network that the candidate can suddenly raise a ton of money, thereby breaking out of the back in a contested primary. Both the "good" Kentucky ad and the "bad" Virginia ad seem very much targeted to national, not local, issues, to the extent there is any policy content; the Virginia ad chides the Republican incumbent for ducking town hall meetings. 

What's to worry about? It's one thing to stand out from the pack by singing badly. No real harm done. But it's easy to see where a race to the bottom could take future candidates. Indeed, for Republican candidates to outdo their own president, they would have to -- to tell the truth, I'm not sure I have the imagination to guess what they might do to earn a little play in the national Republican-aligned media. And it's not as if I have any confidence that Democratic "bad" ads in the future would restrict themselves to bad taste. Liberal demagogues can get national attention, too. 

The truth, as we've repeatedly seen, is that there is plenty of partisan money available for candidates who manage to break through the clutter and get noticed. And if the money is there, candidates ranging from those with the very best intentions to total scam artists are going to angle to get their share of it. Don't mistake me: I'm in favor of plenty of money in the political system, especially in House and other down-ballot races. The more money, the more fully contested elections, and the better for democracy. But I'm afraid we're going to see some nasty side effects from it. 

1. Ready for 2020 primary calendar discussion? Josh Putnam is, and he has a thorough analysis of the effects of moving California's to the beginning of March -- and all the myths associated with it. 

2. Seth Masket on information overload and Donald Trump coverage

3. Candis Watts Smith at the Monkey Cage on the politics of black immigrants in the U.S. 

4. Also at the Monkey Cage, Francisco Cantú and German Feierherd on the Mike Pence commission and electoral integrity

5. Dan Drezner on Trump, tweeting and presidential impotence. 

6. Fred Kaplan isn't sure what's worse: Trump's approach to the United Nations or the UN's approach to the UN. 

7. And Christian G. Appy on the first episode of the documentary "The Vietnam War." 

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    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

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    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

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