Politics

Why a Stoner Stereotype Won’t Spoil North Carolina’s Senate Race

How conservatives think of potheads is just as kitschy as you’d think—which is why it likely won’t swing an important election.

National Journal
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Rebecca Nelson
Oct. 24, 2014, 10:35 a.m.

Plaid, earth-toned flan­nel? Check. A chill dude wear­ing a T-shirt of Bob Mar­ley smoking a joint? Got it. A mic-drop “Oh­hh, yeah,” Kool-Aid-Man-style? In­ex­plic­ably, yes.

In an ef­fort to up­set the North Car­o­lina Sen­ate race, a series of di­git­al ads de­pict­ing stoner cul­ture urge voters to sup­port Sean Haugh, the pro-marijuana liber­tari­an run­ning against Demo­crat Sen. Kay Hagan and her Re­pub­lic­an chal­lenger, Thom Tillis.

Haugh, a pizza de­liv­ery­man and former ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Liber­tari­an Party of North Car­o­lina, isn’t be­hind the spots. The con­ser­vat­ive Amer­ic­an Fu­ture Fund spent $225,000 on the cam­paign in an at­tempt to move Hagan voters to the more “pro­gress­ive” third-party can­did­ate. Em­phas­iz­ing Haugh’s sup­port for the en­vir­on­ment, peace, and, yes, marijuana leg­al­iz­a­tion, the videos draw sharp con­trasts between the liber­tari­an and Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates. But it likely won’t dis­rupt the race.

Ima­gin­ing pot­heads seem­ingly doesn’t come easy for con­ser­vat­ive ad­makers. The videos have all the ele­ments of deep op­pos­i­tion re­search on typ­ic­al marijuana sup­port­ers—al­beit re­search stem­ming from pop-cul­ture cliches.

Erik Al­tieri, the com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or for the Na­tion­al Or­gan­iz­a­tion for the Re­form of Marijuana Laws, told Na­tion­al Journ­al that be­cause these ste­reo­types don’t rep­res­ent most sup­port­ers of marijuana leg­al­iz­a­tion, that mes­saging won’t work.

“The ma­jor­ity of our sup­port, as we’re get­ting close to 60 per­cent sup­port na­tion­wide, is com­ing from in­di­vidu­als who likely don’t smoke marijuana them­selves and don’t really have a stake in the is­sue from that end, but they do have a stake in terms of the tax dol­lars be­ing spent on en­for­cing pro­hib­i­tion and the crime that it really gen­er­ates,” he said. “Fo­cus­ing on the reg­u­la­tion, and the fail­ures of pro­hib­i­tion, def­in­itely seem more ef­fect­ive and to res­on­ate bet­ter than something that sounds more, just ‘Yay pot.’ “

The tar­gets of the ad cam­paign—ac­tu­al stone­rs—won’t be moved by an in­sin­cere call to “get high,” Al­tieri said.

Stone­rs “do have a good nose for, par­don my French, bull­shit,” he told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “If they see that this is go­ing to be something that is really just a weak at­tempt to pander to their in­terests, I don’t think it’ll really in­flu­ence them.”

While Hagan and Tillis head to­ward Elec­tion Day in a stat­ist­ic­al tie, polls show Haugh now gar­ner­ing 6 per­cent of the vote. In a race this tight, nearly any­thing could shift the bal­ance. But weed-smoking North Car­olini­ans likely won’t be the de­cid­ing factor. After all, if we’re to be­lieve the con­ser­vat­ive ste­reo­type de­pic­ted in the on­line ads, they’ll be too busy smoking blunts and eat­ing Dor­i­tos to get to the polls.

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