Picking up on a gaffe at a presidential press conference, this attack ad hits Obama hard on the battleground of the economy
Most campaign ads are jabs in a boxing match that either land a quick blow or are fended off by a wily opponent. But every so often a campaign will come up with a haymaker; something they believe just might be a knockout. So it is with this Mitt Romney television attack ad. It is something the campaign have been longing to run: a brutal blow against Obama’s economic record using a rare – but major – Obama gaffe.
It is a 30-second TV spot from the official Romney campaign called “Doing fine?” The title reveals this ad is using the now-notorious moment last week when Obama stated “The private sector is doing fine” during a news conference on the economy. You can actually argue the truth of that statement (many big businesses in America are reaping record profits and sitting on gigantic cash reserves), but the politics of it was awful. Which is why, just hours later, Obama rowed back on it. Not that Republicans care. In the dog-eat-dog world of campaign politics, retractions count for nothing.
So far, the Romney campaign has declined to say when the ad is going up. But with Romney about to launch a multi-day bus tour through key battleground states like Ohio, New Hampshire and Iowa you can bet it will start soon.
That ad buy – which at $3.24m is the biggest Romney buy of the general election – is focused on seven states: Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia. I would expect to see “Doing fine?” doing just fine in those states.
Short, sharp and shocking. That is what this ad intends to be and that is what it achieves. The most effective propaganda states a simple powerful message repeatedly. This ad’s core theme is simple: Obama does not understand that you are in pain.
Its clear aim is to create an iconic campaign theme that defines Obama in the same way that “looking idiotic riding in a tank” defined Michael Dukakis and “Mission Accomplished” was a major threat to George W Bush. The ad begins with dramatic music playing over images of long, snaking queues of people looking for work.
“23.2 million Americans are in need of work,” the ad says. Note the careful phrasing there. That’s using a broad definition of unemployment. It continues, “40 straight months over 8% unemployment.” There is no voiceover. But the ad does not need one to get its message across. To complete the grimness, a third statement pops up (“Middle class struggles deepen under Obama”) and then a fourth (“Millions of homeowners underwater on mortgages”).
Let’s just forget for now that Romney himself said the foreclosure process needed to be allowed to run its course. This ad is not concerned with subtleties. By now, 13 seconds in, the viewer is simply deeply depressed and more than a little scared about the economic reality of America in 2012. And here comes the punch. A quick flash to Obama saying confidently: “The private sector is doing fine.” The music suddenly stops on one of those dud piano notes.
“The private sector is doing fine?” flashes up a message. There is still no voiceover, but it is impossible not to read that bit of script without thinking it in a mental voice dripping with incredulous sarcasm. At which point, the ad repeats the Obama clip, this time more tightly focused on Obama’s face so he seems to fill the screen.
“How can President Obama fix our economy if he doesn’t understand it’s broken?”
Finally, and just to ram home the point like a pile driver, the ad once again repeats Obama saying: “The private sector is doing fine.” Ouch.
This is a powerful piece of work, slick and simple, tackling the only thing that matters in the 2012 election: jobs. Ironically, this sort of ad is something the Obama campaign knows all about.
In 2008, as the Great Recession roiled US politics and financial collapse beckoned, Senator John McCain made a similarly ill-advised remark by saying, “The fundamentals of our economy are strong.” The Obama campaign jumped at that and made a brutal attack ad based on it. You can see that “Doing fine?” is an almost shot-for-shot remake of that 2008 original.
Perhaps nothing else better illustrates how the boot is now on the other foot in 2012. Obama can argue (and will) that, without him, America’s economy would be much worse off. But that is a much tougher sell to scared swing voters – and his cause has not been improved by handing Romney’s staff the raw material to make this sort of ad.
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