Why Are Political Candidates Always Driving in Their TV Ads?

A GOP media consultant says it lends authenticity. The four candidates driving in new TV ads this week agree.

Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf drives his Jeep in a recent campaign ad. (YouTube screengrab)
National Journal
Adam Wollner
April 3, 2014, 1:43 p.m.

The auto­mot­ive in­dustry is mak­ing a comeback — in polit­ic­al ads.

Four TV ads re­leased over the past week in cam­paigns across the coun­try fea­ture can­did­ates of all stripes — Demo­crat and Re­pub­lic­an, in­cum­bent and chal­lenger — lit­er­ally in the driver’s seat while mak­ing their case to view­ers and voters.

In the Pennsylvania gov­ernor’s race, Demo­crat Tom Wolf speaks dir­ectly in­to the cam­era, from be­hind the wheel of his Jeep, about the need “to end polit­ics as usu­al.” Dav­id Rouzer, a Re­pub­lic­an House can­did­ate in North Car­o­lina, opens his de­but ad by not­ing — from in­side the vehicle in ques­tion — that he put more than 300,000 miles on his Chevy truck. Re­pub­lic­an Doug Ose, who’s seek­ing a re­turn to Con­gress in Cali­for­nia, warns about the dangers of the na­tion­al debt while driv­ing his GMC pickup.

And in a north­ern twist on the trend, Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Be­gich’s latest com­mer­cial shows him snow­mobil­ing across win­tery Alaska ter­rain.

This is not new: The most fam­ous re­cent ex­ample, Scott Brown’s pickup truck, was a fix­ture on the cam­paign trail dur­ing his 2010 run for Sen­ate in Mas­sachu­setts, and it made ap­pear­ances in a num­ber of his ads.

But GOP me­dia strategist Adam Good­man says the strategy is not em­ployed nearly enough. Good­man, who most re­cently worked on now-Rep. Dav­id Jolly’s suc­cess­ful spe­cial-elec­tion cam­paign in Flor­ida’s 13th Dis­trict, said put­ting can­did­ates in the driver’s seat and hav­ing them face the cam­era pulls back the cur­tain on these of­ten-dis­tant fig­ures, al­low­ing them to come across as a real per­son and cre­ate stronger con­nec­tions with voters.

This is es­pe­cially im­port­ant when can­did­ates — like Wolf, Rouzer, and Ose — are seek­ing to in­tro­duce them­selves for the first time. In Be­gich’s case, the snow­mobile provides an­oth­er chance to por­tray him­self as a true Alaskan, as Demo­crats ham­mer one of his po­ten­tial Re­pub­lic­an op­pon­ents, Dan Sul­li­van, over his ties to the state.

“The most un­der­used form of polit­ic­al tele­vi­sion today is the power of us­ing the can­did­ate to de­liv­er the mes­sage,” Good­man said. “The more au­then­t­ic the im­pres­sion, the bet­ter.”

In oth­er words, driv­ing is the best way for can­did­ates to get where they want to go.

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