I have been watching a lot of television lately, and I suspect I am not alone in this vice during the Covid-19 pandemic. But I like TV; been watching it for a long time. I was young when All in the Family and The Carol Burnett Show were on the schedule, but I still remember laughing out loud at Archie’s antics and Tim Conway baiting Harvey Korman.
A weird side effect of watching TV for a long time is having watched, oh, a bazillion TV ads. Yes, TV ads are holes in time when one turns aside and actually speaks with the other folks in the room who are watching the same TV. But TV ads are instructive and meaningful in their own right; many smart and savvy business folk spend lots of dollars crafting ads for the specific purpose of affecting and influencing we the viewers. Analyzing TV ads is worth the effort.
For New Mexico candidates seeking federal office, TV ads are really the only way we get to know them, especially this year. And candidate ads for the 2020 primary definitely have a different flavor from district to district.
None of the primary candidates for Congressional District 1—the Albuquerque Metro area—are running ads as of this writing. The Democratic candidate, Deb Haaland, is running unopposed; she does not need to. The Republican candidates (Michelle Garcia Holmes, Brett Kokinadis, and Jared Vander Dussen) are literally mailing it in via yard signs and mailers only. Perhaps no major donors believe Ms. Haaland can beaten in the general election.
There are 11 primary candidates for the open seat in CD 3. Four of them are running ads, and all of them are Democrats. First, I want to commend Marco Serna’s ad. He brings not even a hint of negativism. He does not attack any of his opponents. His ad presents him as a young, earnest man who is inviting you to look at him in a positive light. He asks you to look at his website to read his position papers on numerous issues. He wants you to vote for him because he believes his ideas are better, and they will benefit the constituents of CD 3. However, gambling that many folks will actually go to his website and read his position papers seems like trying to draw an inside straight in a hand of five card draw poker.
John Blair’s ad also has not a hint of negativism. He does not attack any of his opponents. One obvious subtext of his ad is that he is a gay man, and as presented in his ad this subtext has the effect of de-emphasizing, and normalizing his gayness. Cool. But what more? Mr. Blair’s ad campaign needs a second act.
Following this pattern, none of Teresa Leger Fernandez’s ads have a hint of negativism. She does not attack any of her opponents. Her’s are an effective set of ads because they attempt to persuade you to vote for her. Her ads say she is qualified for the job of a United States Congressional Representative because she has a history of activism and advocacy, and she wants to use her voice to press the needs and concerns of CD 3.
Valerie Plame? Again, nothing negative and no attacks on her opponents. Her ads are compelling, but in the end they are hollow. I have no doubt she has guts, brains, and ability, but her legitimate claim to notoriety is based on yesterday’s partisan wars. That she was screwed over by Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby is not, in and of itself, enough of a reason to give her the job. Like Mr. Blair, she needs a second act describing what she will do in the job as opposed to why she deserves it.
Now compare these ad campaigns to those of the three candidates for CD 2 in southern New Mexico to run against Rep. Xochitl Torres-Small.
The ads run by Yvette Herrell and Claire Chase are identical. Both kicked off their ad campaigns with familiar meet-the-candidate pieces, and in both they declared their undying support of the President. But their current run of ads are, well, uninspiring. Both take as their premise that undying support of the President is required, absolutely. But both full-throatedly holler that the other is actually a secret agent who seeks to undermine the President. “You clapped at an event in San Diego where people were mean to the President!” “You’re a ditzy Valley-girl who was mean to the President on Facebook!” These ads are the intellectual equivalent of calling your opponent a poopyhead. I hear nothing that inspires a path forward.
The ads run by Chris Mathys stay out of the Chase-Herrell catfight. He too declares fealty to the President, and he vows to restore the ability for high school students to pray to God in school. News flash; high school students already have the ability to pray to God in school. Folks of my ilk just want high schoolers to have the ability to opt-in or opt-out of prayers to God, maybe because they may not believe in the God of the Bible. That describes me, though I am a hard-ass adherent to the golden rule that thou should do unto others as they would do unto you.
My partisan biases are apparent. Got it. Please comment freely and I will listen. And please know that based on the tone of the messages in the ad campaigns I have described in this column, I am more attuned to the non-negative.
Darrell M. Allen is an employment and criminal defense attorney. He lives with two nice Republican ladies north of I-40, where they run two head each of dog and cat.