Why are the presidential candidates spending so much time raising so much money? To buy TV ads. In Ad Watch, we review the results of their heroic efforts as they come out. Today: Scott Brown takes on Elizabeth Warren's family tree, President Obama mocks Mitt Romney's "47 percent" tape, and Romney says Obama can't even control Nancy Pelosi.
The Ad: Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, "Who Knows?"
The Issues: If you can't trust Elizabeth Warren on her great-great-great-grandmother's cultural heritage, what can you trust her on?
The Message: In the spring, conservative blogs noticed that Warren had been listed as Native American in university listings, even though she has blonde hair. Warren's struggle to respond to the story made it even bigger news, as when she explained that their heritage had always been part of family lore, like that her pa-paw had "high cheekbones." The issue had sort of died down, but Brown brought it up again in their first debate last week. It's a way of suggesting she's both unethical and an affirmative action beneficiary.
Who'll See It: Massachusetts TV viewers.
Who It's For: Brown was polling ahead of Warren for much of the year, but several recent polls put her in the lead. Perhaps Brown is going for wavering Democrats? A survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found that Warren's favorability rating has improved in the last month. Her new lead in PPP's poll came from Democrats backing her by a much wider margin than they were a month ago.
What Everyone Else Thinks: There's probably a bigger issue in the campaign than Warren's family tree, right?
The Effect: Warren looks bad in the ad, until the very end, in what's supposed to be the kicker. Asked if any more would come out about her, Warren responds laughing, "I don't think so… but who knows?" It's supposed to be ominous. But it's a reminder this scandal is about cheekbones. C
The Ad: President Obama, "No Taxes"
The Issues: Romney's "47 percent" video, and his taxes.
The Message: Romney thinks he's better than you. Notably, the campaign appears to think the secret tape is so famous that it doesn't even play the audio—it just shows the footage while a narrator explains that Romney spoke dismissively of the 47 percent who don't pay income tax. That includes veterans and old folks, the narrator says, and then mentions Romney's offshore accounts and disclosure of only two years of tax returns. "Maybe instead of attacking others on taxes, Mitt Romney should come clean on his?"
Who'll See It: The ad is only airing in Ohio. Ohio has been the major focus of Obama and Obama-backing groups attacking Romney on taxes and his Bain Capital career.
Who It's For: Working-class whites, old people, anyone who hates snobs. Romney needs to win a huge share of the white vote to defeat Obama, but outside the South, his margin among working-class whites isn't great. Romney beats Obama by 40 percentage points among the group in the South, but by only 5 points in the West and 4 points in the North.
What Everyone Else Thinks: Romney was speaking about his strategy for getting elected, not his vision for governing.
The Effect: The ad makes Romney look like a jerk, but it's the same standard stuff in most political ads -- a sneering anonymous narrator, headlines and numbers on screen. C+
The Ad: Mitt Romney, "Mute Button"
The Issues: Obama can't even keep congressional Democrats in line.
The Message: This ad is based on an anecdote from Bob Woodward's book The Price of Politics. Woodward reports that while Democrats were working on the Recovery Act, Obama called Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and got going on a long-winded pep talk. Pelosi muted Obama so they could keep working on the legislation.
Who'll See It: TV viewers in swing states, though it's not clear which ones.
Who It's For: People who think Obama's alright but don't like Pelosi or Reid or Congress or the stimulus.
What Everyone Else Thinks: Pelosi says the story's not true. Woodward stands by his reporting.
The Effect: Reporters have loudly complained that a few of Romney's ads have been false but continued to air, like the ones about welfare. So it's interesting that the campaign decided to go with an anecdote reported by a journalistic legend. Unlike most attack ads, this one tells a story to make its point. B+