The Art of the Weird Campaign Ad

The strangest, most fantastical political campaign ads from candidates who’ll never win.

Alabama Agriculture Commission who wasn't.
National Journal
Lucia Graves
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Lucia Graves
Sept. 13, 2013, 9:36 a.m.

Mike Gravel, the un­likely pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate who cre­ated what is per­haps the most be­loved, ab­struse, polit­ic­al cam­paign ad of the past dec­ade, has got some com­pet­i­tion in Min­neapol­is may­or­al can­did­ate Jeff Wag­n­er.

Wager, a Demo­crat, has pro­duced a video that Tae­gan God­dard’s Polit­ic­al Wire is call­ing “just out­stand­ing.” In the video, Wager emerges from a lake to re­mind view­ers that he will not be taken in by dark money or shady deal­ers. “I’m cool with mak­ing $100,000 a year,” said Wag­n­er. “I will not take money from the de­velopers. I will not take money from the polit­ic­al angle.”

The pop­u­list mes­sage re­calls the ideal­ism por­trayed by Gravel, who prom­ised not to take dirty money. It’s just a minute long.

Now com­pare that to Gravel’s ads “Rock” and “Fire,” two av­ant-garde, word­less things, pro­duced by Ot­is Col­lege of Art and Design staff. The first, about three minutes long, shows Gravel star­ing blankly at the view­er for over a minute be­fore heav­ing a large rock in­to a lake and walk­ing slowly away.

The second opens with him col­lect­ing wood in a forest and star­ing in­to the res­ult­ant camp­fire. Then for sev­en minutes we watch the fire burn with Gravel’s web­site graph­ic su­per­im­posed.

Gravel’s second ad is re­min­is­cent of an­oth­er fab­ulous ad for Jeff Barth, the Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent to Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota. In it he wanders in­to a forest ex­plain­ing why D.C. in­siders are a bunch of “horse’s asses,” as fiddle mu­sic plays.

He also dons a hard hat, ges­tic­u­lates wildly with a news­pa­per, and fires a loaded weapon — all in un­der five minutes! Be sure to watch at least as far as the part where he cas­u­ally men­tions that his daugh­ters have hus­bands and straight teeth. We’re pretty sure there’s a policy pro­pos­al in there some­where.

We leave you with a clas­sic from the Alabama ag­ri­cul­ture com­mis­sion­er’s race.

With a back­drop in­clud­ing a horse, a cow­boy hat, and a rifle, Dale Peterson asks Alabama Re­pub­lic­ans for the nom­in­a­tion. In 71 seconds of un­in­ter­rup­ted bril­liance — and the oc­ca­sion­al crack of whip — Peterson calls his primary op­pon­ent a “dummy” while prom­ising to name name and take no pris­on­ers in his fight against “thugs and crim­in­als” and “il­leg­als bused in by the thou­sands.” We call this polit­ic­al ap­proach the pat­ri­ot­ic throat-punch.

And so ends our cov­er­age of the best polit­ic­al cam­paign ads for can­did­ates who went nowhere. Did we men­tion it’s Fri­day in Wash­ing­ton?

Patrick Reis contributed to this article.
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