Election Year Politics: The Worst Ads Of 2010

In election years, the favorite weapon of mass destruction is the ad. Internet, radio, newspaper, flyer, email, snail mail, and, especially, television. Some might question the use of the term “mass” in reference to these weapons. After all, ads are usually aimed at just one person – the opponent of the ad’s backers. But, depending on how clever the marketing piece is, the fallout can be much broader. In destroying a lone candidate, a legitimate voter alternative can be effectively eliminated for the entire electorate.

Politicians believe ads have a huge impact. Remember Pelosi’s plan to win the midterms? Outspend Republicans 2-to-1. That didn’t happen as the spending was close to a draw, but the Parties and their proponents did ante up hundreds of millions of dollars. Given the cutthroat nature of many ads, it’s pretty obvious that they’re all about winning and not about the merits. Spend to win.

How effective are attack ads? Let’s look at the top five worst political ads this year and at how their candidates fared. Picking only five is a tough decision because there are so many bottom feeder choices. Here’s a shot at it anyway, by category:

Most Distorted

This award goes to Alan Grayson, Democrat incumbent from Florida’s 8th Congressional District. The winning ad, referred to as “Taliban Dan”, shows his opponent, Republican Dan Webster, repeatedly extolling women to “submit to me”. The clip includes Muslim women in traditional dress. In fact, Webster’s excerpted sounds bites were taken from a speech he gave that, in full context, had the opposite meaning.

The “Taliban Dan” ad, and similar campaign antics, cost the Democrat incumbent the endorsement of central Florida’s largest newspaper. Yesterday, he also lost his re-election bid.

Most Bizarre

Carly Fiorina, running in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in California, wins this one. Known as the “Demon Sheep” ad, it portrays her opponent, Tom Campbell, as a sheep that is, at first, raised on a pedestal. The sheep soon falls, tumbling head over heels into darkness. By the end of the ad, a faux sheep with red demon eyes surfaces only to crawl away from the herd in shame. Unbelievably bizarre.

Fiorina did win the primary. But, she lost yesterday in her general election bid to unseat Democrat incumbent Barbara Boxer.


The creepiest ad award goes to Christine O’Donnell, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Delaware. Known as the “I’m Not A Witch” ad, it shows O’Donnell saying exactly that in a pitch to convince voters that she’s one of them. The truly creepy part is how perfectly normal she looks in the ad. But, her words do her in.

It’s doubtful the ad adversely affected her chances. She was pegged a loser from the moment she upset Republican Party favorite, Mike Castle, in the primary. Until then, Castle was favored to take Joe Biden’s old seat. Yesterday, it stayed in the Democrat column. Not a good showing for the Tea Party.

Worst Short-Lived

Missouri Republican Senate candidate Roy Blunt hammered his opponent, Robin Carnahan, with his “Ground Zero” ad. It shows the smoldering remains of the Twin Towers with a Carnahan voice-over speaking in support of the proposed Park51 Mosque. While I’m against the Mosque’s location, equating ‘Muslim’ with ‘terrorist’ is neither correct nor productive. Blunt eventually pulled the ad. He won re-election in a landslide.

Most Brutal

Democrat Harry Reid wins the award in the final category. In his “400 Miles” ad, Reid, in a close contest with Republican challenger Sharron Angle for his Nevada Senate seat, assailed Angle as “crazy”. Harry launched the attack after weeks of alluding to his opponent as “extreme” and “dangerous”. So much for a frank discussion of the issues.

But, Harry doesn’t need to mind the merits. He won yesterday with dirty politics against a weak Tea Party candidate.

Politicians flood us with attack ads for one of two reasons. They’re running behind and desperate, with neither facts nor ideas on their side. Or, they think mud slinging is enough to put them over the top in a close race.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe we would rather make our election decisions under the influence of gross distortions. If that’s the case, it gives a whole new meaning to the term, mud bath.

See you in the mirror.