Friday, June 15, 2012

The Republicans' lousy fifth-column ad man

By Mary Claire Kendall 
Originally published in The Washington Examiner on May 22, 2012
Fred Davis, GOP Ad Man
It's said that presidential campaigns are like war -- complete with spies infiltrating your operation. And Republicans have apparently encountered one of these.
His name is Fred Davis, a nephew to conservative Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe. His firm, Strategic Perception Inc., is based in Hollywood right under the Hollywood sign. The party elite kowtow to this Hollywood ad guru, thinking he waves a magic wand like Glinda the Good Witch in "The Wizard of Oz," to improve their image.
They should consider his track record. This is the same Fred Davis responsible for the recent "Debbie Spend-it-Now" ad in the 2012 Michigan Senate race, which caused nothing but headaches for the campaign of Republican former Rep. Pete Hoekstra. Davis also made the "Demon Sheep" Web ad in the 2010 California Senate primary -- possibly the worst political ad ever.
Or it was the worst, until his next one. That same year, Davis created the infamous "I am not a witch" ad for Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell. O'Donnell writes in her book, "Troublemaker," that she did not even want to make this ad, and only humored Davis by reading the lines. Once it had been made, she did not want it to be released.
But somehow, the Witch ad did make it to the email inbox of the New York Times. Maybe one of Davis' winged monkeys accidentally hit the send button. The ad went viral, garnering plenty of press for Davis. It was not so great for O'Donnell, who became the national laughingstock of the 2010 campaign.
Recently, an ad campaign that Davis proposed for TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts and his Ending Spending Action Fund was also mysteriously leaked to the New York Times. It contemplated highlighting the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's influence on President Obama.
The leaked draft plan was for a $10 million buy designed to deliver a "jolt" to the Democratic National Convention in September and, it said, "do exactly what John McCain would not let us do" -- through ads tethering Obama to his spiritual mentor, Wright, and his incendiary, racially charged sermons, including his infamous "America's chickens are coming home to roost" sermon right after 9/11.
Davis' was just one of several proposals the super-PAC was considering. This one would not have been funded. As End Spending said in a subsequent statement, "It reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a [suggested direction]."
It is another question entirely whether these contemplated Wright ads would be effective against Obama. The issue here is whether people like Ricketts and his advisors have a right to keep their private deliberations off the pages of the New York Times.
Mitt Romney, the very proper presumptive Republican presidential nominee, wants to fight the election on economic terrain. He immediately distanced himself from Davis' ad campaign after it hit the Gray Lady's front page: "I want to make it very clear," he said. "I repudiate this effort. It think it's the wrong course." Within 24 hours, it was kaput.
Unfortunately for Romney, the enemy will not so easily be convinced to play patty-cake. Campaign 2012 will be an all-out war, and in war you need to be ready to exploit all of your enemy's vulnerabilities. You don't know which approach -- economy land or character sea -- will be decisive in victory.
Thanks to Davis' proposal and this mysterious leak, there is at least one weapon that Romney has been forced to put out of commission, no matter what.
Mary Claire Kendall is a Washington-based journalist and screenwriter.

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