5 of the Most Outlandish Senate Campaigns of 2014

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Politicians waging a dirty battle play to their audience, and given the amount of money they have at their disposal — the number of campaign advisers and poll takers under their employ — most of them tend to know fairly exactly what their constituents will respond to. Sure, knowing their state and its voters goes with the territory, but make no mistake, there’s studied science behind appealing to voters when it gets down to the wire.

But from an outsider’s more objective perspective, these attempts to appeal to the desires and fears of state residents can seem pretty strange, even cheap, especially given the way negative campaign information tends to be displayed; usually dramatically with a flare of exaggeration just bordering on unbelievable.

Visit any incumbent or opponent’s campaign site and there’s inevitably a page or video expounding the character flaws, unseemly political connections, policy mistakes, and funding corruption. It’s hardly surprising so many are convinced all politicians are the same breed of terrible. Some of these campaigns are particularly hyperbolic and outlandish, though, and for your viewing pleasure, I’ve collected the top five.

1. Mark Pryor

Proving that campaign insanity of the eye roll variety — bordering on immoral — is bipartisan, both incumbent Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Senate candidate Allen Weh (R) of New Mexico deserve to be at the top of this list. Both exploit tragedy for personal political gain for the shock factor that comes with terrible events.

Pryor’s latest ad focuses on Ebola, using some truly questionable scare tactics to nab viewers’ attention — scare tactics that are hardly relevant, but likely still effective. After all, flashing dramatic news clips like you’d expect to see in the beginning scenes of 28 Days Later (a horror movie starring Cillian Murphy), the ad ramps up fear of the Ebola outbreak, as you can see below in The Washington Post’s video. The ad suggests indirectly that Americans should take fears of spread to the United States seriously, and that Pryor’s opponent, Representative Tom Cotton, has decreased the United States’ capability to handle such an outbreak in a real and tangible way, one which might be disastrous.

The graphic below, provided by The Wall Street Journal using statistics from the World Health Organization, shows how comparably prepared the United States is for an outbreak.


Our healthcare system is far more capable of handling outbreak control, not to mention the agreed upon unlikelihood of Ebola traveling to the U.S., according to experts. What Pryor has done is tack on a big scary buzz word from the news to his criticism of Cotton’s healthcare voting record.

2.  Allen Weh

Moving on to New Mexico’s Allen Weh, we see an ad video filled to the brim with clips alternating between President Barack Obama doing various leisure activities, explosions, war, missiles, and similar content. Clearly the goal is to tie his opponent to the entrenched Washington crowd, and as an Obama man — not a bad strategy considering Obama’s low opinion polls.

Still, the ad could easily be compared — for a second movie reference — to brainwashing in The Manchurian Candidate, flashing scenes of disaster paired with the President’s face. More importantly, and more disturbingly, it includes a nice long shot of an image from ISIL’s video of James Foley — another video released onto the Internet for the sake of influencing opinion and disturbing its viewers. It’s exploitation of a recent heartbreaking murder at its finest.


3. Senator Mark Begich

Alaska’s Senate race has proven to be one of a handful that will have a major say in how the midterm race shakes out. But in Alaska, the race has gotten nasty in very specific and repetitive areas. Specifically, being seen as an outsider in Alaska is a big political no-no, as is being seen as beholden to big business. Campaign contributions have become a big issue within the state race as well. But the funnier political barbs are from the former, specifically when Begich’s ad accuses Dan Sullivan of being new blood in Alaska, rather than a tried and true resident.

One particularly amusing ad has various people being quoted on their views of Sullivan, and it’s these quotes that seem to cross the line into ridiculous rather than just propaganda-esque like most ads. Especially if you read them out loud.

The best seem to come from Mead Treadwell, Lieutenant Governor of Alaska, and include saying Sullivan is “someone who can’t remember one fishing license to the next,” and that “down in my cabin we’ve got a jar of mayonnaise in the fridge that’s been here longer than you.”

4. Bill Cassidy

Republican Candidate Bill Cassidy really knows how to use a scanner and conjecture wildly about events in Congress, or so it seems based on his campaign post claiming “Mary Landrieu flip flops” with an embedded image of a roll call vote she scribbled out her vote on, then changed. Perhaps she did change her mind and allign with Senator Harry Reid (D) on amnesty, but it hardly seems likely she was secretively waiting till the cameras were off, as Cassidy’s campaign states.

The scanned document is rather clear proof that one can’t hide their vote for very long. More than anything, the poor quality scan of the vote document comes across as rather desperate proof; if you supply a .jpg as proof of political loyalties, the assumption is you need a .jpg to make your point believable. Still, Cassidy’s “living like a movie star” ad was a bit more effective and better put together — though it would be interesting to look at the budgets of the average state Senator and see how she compares.

5. Joni Ernst & Bruce Braley

Both candidates from Iowa have some weak negative ad efforts. Contender Bruce Braley (D) foolishly uses a chick — possibly just a play off of the barnyard pork phrasing in politics — to say that Senator Joni Ernst didn’t make a “peep” and “never sponsored a bill to cut pork.” Whoever spearheaded that campaign clearly didn’t recognize the door they were opening to accusations of sexism — and generally calling opponents animals has gone poorly for politicians in the past. Given the whole range and expanse of possible ads, it’s a bit unfortunate more outside-of-the-box thinking couldn’t be managed.

On the other hand, Joni Ernst’s ad makes the mistake of going over-the-top with “bold” statements. You can’t make blanket statements like, “He insults farmers” without sounding like you might be oversimplifying matters a bit.

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Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS