With just over two weeks before the midterm elections – and the fight for control of the Senate still very much up in the air – candidates and outside groups have been cranking out ads. Red-state Democrats are trying to put distance between themselves and President Obama, who remains deeply unpopular among large swaths of voters. Several Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to capitalize on the recent Ebola crisis and the rise of ISIS – often using scare tactics to do so. They’re also trying to dispel some of the more unsavory parts of the GOP’s reputation, including the Democratic charge that conservatives are waging a “war on women.”
This election cycle has been filled with a range of ads – funny, bizarre, nasty, and everything in between. From wrangling alligators to Cliven Bundy cameo, here’s a look at the most talked-about campaign spots of this cycle.
“Make ‘em squeal”
Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst, who is in a heated race in Iowa against Democrat Bruce Braley, was propelled into the national spotlight earlier this spring with this ad. In it, Ernst makes the argument that she’s uniquely qualified to cut spending in Washington. “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork,” says Ernst, smiling as video footage of pigs is played. “Washington’s full of big spenders. Let’s make ‘em squeal,” Ernst declares.
Get those gaters!
Rob Manness, a Tea Party candidate trying to oust Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, is also going with an animal theme –arguing his experience with alligators makes him tough enough to take on DC politicians. “Here in Louisiana, you learn to be tough,” he says in an ad first released in May. “One moment of weakness and the alligators could eat you alive.” The ad features plenty of reptiles roaming around and repeated sound bytes of an alligator chomp. It finishes with Manness taping one of the reptile’s mouth shut and him declaring “Louisiana needs a senator that’s going to stand up to the career politicians—and the alligators.”
Going too far?
Democratic candidate for Texas governor Wendy Davis came under scrutiny for a controversial attack ad that came out last month depicting an empty wheelchair – an eye-popping reference to her Republican opponent, Greg Abbott, who has been in a wheelchair since 1984 after an accident that left him a paraplegic. The spot accuses Abbott of siding against accident victims during his time as Texas attorney general despite being awarded $10 million after his own accident. Davis has insisted the ad was not a personal attack on Abbott.
This ad cost J.D. Winteregg’s job teaching at a Christian college, but it did win him some big laughs. Winteregg, who unsuccessfully took on House Speaker John Boehner in Ohio’s GOP primary, charged Boehner suffers from “electile dysfunction” in a spot styled after commercials for drugs like Cialis. “Your electile dysfunction? It could be a question of blood flow. Sometimes when a politician has been in D.C. too long, it goes to his head and he just can’t seem to get the job done,” says the narrator, who later adds, “If you have a Boehner lasting more than 23 years, seek immediate medical attention.” Boehner is expected to sail to victory against Democratic challenger Tom Poetter.
Channeling Willie Horton
A new campaign ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee is drawing comparisons to the infamous “Willie Horton” spot that wreaked havoc in 1988 on Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. The NRCC ad takes aim at Democratic Nebraska House candidate Brad Ashford, who is a tight race against Republican Rep. Lee Terry. The spot criticizes Ashford for backing a state law that cuts prison sentences for time served. It features Nikko Jennings, a convicted felon who killed four people over 10 days after being released from jail in 2013. In 1988, the GOP similarly tied Dukakis to felon Willie Horton, who raped a woman, beat her boyfriend and stole a car while on a weekend furlough from jail in Massachusetts. Democrats immediately criticized the latest NRCC ad as race-baiting.
A Cliven Bundy cameo
This could be the strangest ad of the season. Refresher: Bundy, a Nevada rancher became a cause celebre among Tea Party supporters this year after insisting his cattle should be allowed to graze for free on federal land. He later came under fire for a series of racist remarks, including a suggestion that blacks were “better off” as slaves.
Now, Bundy appears in a new ad supporting Kamau Bakari, a longshot independent candidate for Congress in Nevada. Bakari and Bundy expound on seemingly random thoughts about race and then challenge Attorney General Eric Holder to sit down with them to discuss the issue further.
At one point, Bundy – dressed in over-the-top cowboy gear – says to Bakari, an African American, “I know that black folks have had a hard time with, uh, slavery, and you know the government was in on it.” At one point, Bakari calls Bundy a “brave white man,” decries political correctness and says he feels “ashamed when I hear black folks whining about ‘white folks this,’ white folks that,’ always begging.”
Gunning for a win
Democratic Senate candidate in Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes, is seen skeet shooting in an ad that first aired in September in an attempt to distance herself from President Obama. In the ad, Lundergan Grimes says her opponent, Republican leader Mitch McConnell, “wants you to think I’m Barack Obama,” and insists she differs from the commander-of-chief on a number of issues, including guns, coal and the EPA. A photo of McConnell is then shown of McConnell carrying a musket on stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Grimes takes a jab at McConnell, saying “And Mitch, that’s not how you hold a gun.”
Time for a coffee break
Michigan Republican Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land spends a good chunk of her ad, titled “Really?” in silence as she tries to hit back her Democratic opponent Gary Peter’s charge that she’s part of what Demcrats call the Republican “war on women.” Lynn turns to the camera and says “Congressman Gary Peters and his buddies want you to believe I’m waging a war on women. Really? Think about that for a moment.” Then 12 seconds of silence goes by as Land drinks coffee, shakes her head and glances at her watch. In June, GOP pollster Frank Luntz called it the worst ad of the election cycle, arguing it was devoid of substance. Democrats have hammered Land over her opposition to abortion rights and the Paycheck Fairness Act.
The politics of fear
New Mexico Republican Senate candidate Allen Weh, who is running against Democratic Sen. Tom Udall, was criticized after he released a campaign ad called “Restore Leadership” that features a still image of American journalist James Foley’s ISIS executioner. The ad came out less than a week after Foley’s family asked the public not to view or pass along the video and juxtaposes Obama playing golf with the recent crises in Ukraine and the Middle East. Udall’s campaign called the ad “reprehensible” for using Foley’s death for personal gain in a campaign ad. Several Republican candidates have since come out with ads featuring ISIS to portray their Democratic opponents as soft on terror.