A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Our 2014 FactCheck Awards

The funniest, strangest and otherwise noteworthy ads of the campaign season.


Summary

We’ve been diligent little fact-checkers all year long. Well, not today.

It’s Election Day, folks, and we’ve done all we can do to help educate voters about the candidates and their positions. Now, it’s time to have some fun.

Here, for your reading and viewing pleasure, we recognize some of the political ads that made us laugh, dance, gasp, cringe or some combination thereof.

This year’s award recipients include an entertaining ad about a politician gone mad, a trailer for a bad fake film about loan sharks, a racy parody of erectile dysfunction commercials and an ad featuring an endorsement from a Bible-carrying, gun-toting celebrity.

Now on with the show.

Analysis

 Peeved Politician Award
Winner: Illinois state Rep. Mike Bost in a
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Ad

Kudos to the DCCC for this hilarious (in our opinion) ad featuring clips of Republican state Rep. Mike Bost losing his temper during an Illinois House session in 2012.

Bost was a tad upset about the handling of a pension bill he didn’t get to read or something, and voiced his frustration in an epic rant directed at the Democratic House speaker. He yelled and gestured wildly. He compared himself to a slave in Egypt, and smacked at a stack of papers in mid-air. It was awesome.

The DCCC uses footage of the tirade to make the case that “Meltdown Mike,” as the DCCC calls Bost, is unfit to represent Illinois as a U.S. congressman.

“Mike Bost keeps melting down in Springfield,” the ad’s narrator says as video of Bost having a fit plays in the background. The ad closes with the narrator saying, “Now Bost wants to be in Congress. He’d make Washington … worse.”

Perhaps, but he might make it more entertaining, too. Imagine if Bost and “Angry Pat” Murphy — whose assault on a rose-adorned microphone in the Iowa House is featured in a National Republican Congressional Committee ad — are elected to Congress.

We were perplexed by one thing in the DCCC ad, though. Who are those people completely unbothered as Bost’s theatrics played on their TVs? We couldn’t look away from our computer screens, and hit the replay button more than a few times.

 

Ad Most Likely to Get You Fired
Winner: J.D. Winteregg, former congressional candidate in Ohio

Former tea party candidate J.D. Winteregg had a bit of a hit with this suggestive Web ad poking House Speaker John Boehner for erectile, excuse us, “electile dysfunction.”

“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,” the ad’s narrator says. “Other signs of electile dysfunction may include extreme skin discoloration, the inability to punch one’s self out of a wet paper bag or maintain a spine in the face of liberal opposition,” the narrator continues, taking more jabs at the longtime Ohio congressman who claims his tan is — ahem — natural.

The ad, just brimming with sexual innuendo, parodies commercials for products like Levitra and Cialis that combat erectile dysfunction. You see, some people tend to mispronounce Boehner’s name, as Joy Behar repeatedly did on her talk show. Get it?

Anyway, the ad, as clever as it was, couldn’t get the job done, either. Winteregg lost to Boehner in the primary by nearly 50 percentage points. And that’s not all he lost.

Cedarville University, the Ohio Baptist college that employed Winteregg as an adjunct professor, decided not to renew his contract beyond 2014, citing the ad as the reason.

 

Least Anticipated Fall Film
Winner: ‘Gary Peters: Loan Sharknado’

“Sharknado.” Great. “Sharknado 2: The Second One.” Even better. “Gary Peters: Loan Sharknado.” Terrible. We know that just from this 30-second faux trailer.

The cartoon-like ad from the Michigan Republican Party attacks Peters, the 14th District congressman running for U.S. Senate, for having ties to loans sharks. It was obviously inspired by the satirical SyFy films that were so over-the-top bad they were good.

PetersSharknado“Dark clouds are gathering and Gary Peters is in the eye of the storm,” the narrator says in his best movie trailer voice-over voice. Then, an animated Peters is seen outrunning a tornado as cash-vomiting “loan sharks” fall from the sky. That is, we think Peters is running. Based on the way his arms are moving, he could very well be dancing or driving an invisible car.

The narrator goes on to accuse Peters of being “funded by a convicted felon connected to a loan shark ring run by an international gangster who also contributed to Peters’ campaign.” There’s some truth to that, but this is the awards piece. We’re not here for a fact-check.

There’s no evidence the GOP paid to run the ad on TV. It probably hoped the cheap-looking video would go viral. It didn’t. About 47,000 YouTube views, so far. But the Huffington Post did call it “This Cycle’s Best Worst Campaign Ad.” That’s not nothing.

 

The Helen Reddy ‘I Am Woman’ Award
Winner: Joni Ernst, candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa

Is there anything Joni Ernst can’t do? Not according to her campaign ads. The mother, soldier and conservative Senate candidate is no everywoman.

“I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork,” Ernst says in the “Squeal” ad that made her a GOP star and only cost $9,000 to air.

Who knew hog-castrating was a skill voters looked for in a candidate? Surely not her opponents in the Republican primary, or they would have thought to use it in an ad first.

But that’s not all. As her follow-up ad, “Shot,” demonstrates, Ernst can ride a Harley-Davidson, is really good with a pistol, and wears an oversize leather jacket like nobody else. She even knows the secret to making a great biscuit, according to another ad. She must also be a bit of a psychic based on references to what she’ll do when, not if, she gets to D.C.

About the only thing Ernst can’t do, as far as we can tell, is shake the claim that she “would privatize Social Security.” If she can do that, we’ll really be impressed.

 

Biggest Fan of Mitch McConnell
Winner: Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell

Here’s an advertisement only Elaine Chao could love, and not just because she makes a cameo or two. This video is nothing but annoyingly upbeat music and Chao’s husband, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — for two minutes and 22 seconds.

Look, there he is at his desk, making notes, signing important papers and giving us his version of a smile. There he is again, shaking hands, giving speeches and doing interviews. If only we could hear what he’s saying. And there he is once more, wearing his casual best, walking, talking and being social with college students. He’s so cool.

The video isn’t actually an ad for McConnell’s reelection campaign. That’s good because we can’t imagine anyone sitting through it. It was designed to legally provide super PACs and other outside groups with b-roll of the five-term senator that could be used in ads either propping up McConnell or tearing down his challengers.

Never mind that the footage was also used by McConnell’s Democratic opponent in a Web ad against him. Comedian Jon Stewart also had some fun with it.

As it turns out, McConnell’s wasn’t the only team to produce such a video. The campaigns of Democrats Kay Hagan, Bruce Braley and Mark Begich put together similar reels for their candidates. But, to us, McConnell’s was the best (i.e., the most awkward) and the only one to have the whole Internet “McConnelling.” For those reasons, it should be rewarded.

 

 Best Auto-Tuned Dance Party Ad
Winner: Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell

Team Mitch was on it this year, giving us two ads worthy of recognition, including this Web video with a catchy song that would make T-Pain envious.

The ad begins with Alison Lundergan Grimes, McConnell’s Democratic challenger, thanking herself with the help of spliced-together video clips and a lot of auto-tune.

“I wanna thank me, me, me/I wanna thank me, me, me/I wanna thank me, me, me/I wanna thank Alison Lundergan Grimes,” she raps.

Trust us, you must watch the ad to get the full effect. Our writing just doesn’t do it justice.

The ad then asks repeatedly, “What rhymes with Alison Lundergan Grimes/What, what rhymes with Alison Lundergan Grimes?” For those stuck like we were, the ad then says, “Not Ready for Prime Time,” “Sticks to Party Line,” and “Left Wing Mime.”

Yes, those three do rhyme. So does “dance party time!” — now that we think of it.

 

The Oh No She Didn’t Award
Winner: Wendy Davis, candidate for Texas governor

Oh, Wendy Davis. What were you thinking? Trailing badly in the polls, Davis, a Democrat, released this controversial ad that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.

It opens with a shot of an empty wheelchair as a narrator says, “A tree fell on Greg Abbott — he sued and got millions. Since then, he’s spent his career working against other victims.” That’s a reference to Davis’ Republican opponent, who’s paralyzed and uses a wheelchair.

Let’s just say the image didn’t go over well.

Abbot’s campaign called the ad “disgusting.” The state’s Republican Party chairman called it “the most offensive and despicable ad” he had ever seen and demanded Davis apologize.

Ben Dreyfuss, writing for Mother Jones magazine, called the ad “nasty” and said “it shouldn’t exist.” “She’s basically calling Abbott a cripple,” he wrote.

Davis didn’t apologize. Instead, she called Abbott a “hypocrite,” and defended the ad in a press conference surrounded by several of her supporters who use wheelchairs.

The ad may have been in bad taste, but we’ll note that we didn’t find that it made any factually challenged claims about Abbott. That’s one positive thing we can say about it.

 

 The Stating the Obvious Award
Winner: Alison Lundergan Grimes, candidate for U.S. Senate in Kentucky

Not to be outdone by her Republican opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes wins her own award for an ad that we think is a bit of a misfire.

Raise your hand if you mistook Grimes for a six-foot-tall black man. Yeah, us neither. Yet Grimes bought TV time to run this ad letting Mitch McConnell and other Kentuckians know she’s not the president of the United States.

“Mitch McConnell wants you to think I’m Barack Obama,” Grimes says while shooting skeet. “I’m not Barack Obama. I disagree with him on guns, coal and the EPA.”

We can vouch for Grimes on coal and the EPA. And she looks pretty comfortable firing that gun — not that anyone ever confused this president with Teddy Roosevelt.

Sure, Obama talked of skeet shooting “all the time” at Camp David, but the only “proof” the White House provided was a photo of him in tinted shades holding a smoking shotgun. But after seeing Grimes in action, you don’t have to be Sherlock to consider this case of mistaken identity closed.

 

Best Celebrity Endorsement
Winner: Phil Robertson, Duck Commander

This ad stars Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” fame telling Louisianans why he’s supporting 5th Congressional District candidate Zach Dasher. A hint: God and Guns.

“Hey, Louisiana,” Robertson starts, saying Louisiana in a way we’ve never quite heard before. “Bibles and guns brought us here, and Bibles and guns will keep us here,” he says while holding an assault rifle and a Bible held together by duct tape. “Zach Dasher believes in both. That’s why I’m voting for him,” he concludes.

That’s funny. We thought it might have something to do with the fact that Robertson is Dasher’s uncle. But we suppose Bibles and guns are good reasons, too.

Other contenders for this award included Alabama frontman Randy Owen, who sort of sings in ads for Mitch McConnell and Republican Senate candidate Thom Tillis, as well as Brett Favre, who channeled Owen’s look — and hit the gym hard, real hard — for his own appearance in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce ad supporting Sen. Thad Cochran.

 

Creepiest Ads Opposing Obamacare
Winner: Generation Opportunity

Talk about a government takeover of health care. This Generation Opportunity ad made us grateful for our employer-sponsored health insurance. (Thank you, UPenn!)

A young man “new to Obamacare” is shown talking to a doctor who instructs him to drop his trousers, hop up on a table and bring his knees to his chest. “Is this necessary,” the now bare-bottomed and vulnerable man asks the physician. At this point, we were also wondering what had brought him to the doctor’s office that day.

UncleSamThe doctor leaves the room, and then a giant, grinning Uncle Sam appears to perform a rectal examination. There was a similarly disturbing ad with Uncle Sam set to give a pelvic exam to deter young women from signing up for plans on the exchanges.

The ads say, “Don’t let government play doctor.” You don’t have to tell us twice.

The “Creepy Uncle Sam” ads were just one part of the conservative group’s campaign to “educate” young Americans about alternatives to Obamacare. There were parties at over 20 college campuses and a traveling circus, too. We’re not sure how effective those efforts have been, however.

In May, the Obama administration reported that 2.2 million young adults (ages 18-34) had signed up for exchange plans during the initial enrollment period, including 1.2 million who signed up in March, several months after the ads went up in September 2013.

We’ve heard our share of Obamacare horror stories, but don’t recall any about the personification of American government, Mr. “I Want You” himself, playing doctor.

 

 The Ad About Nothing Award
Winner: Terri Lynn Land, candidate for U.S. Senate in Michigan

We close with a word of advice to those who will be running for office in 2016. DO NOT, we repeat, DO NOT do what Terri Lynn Land did this year.

If you make a 30-second TV ad to defend yourself against claims that you’re “waging a war on women,” you better do more in that ad than have a beverage and check the time. But that’s exactly what Land, a Republican Senate candidate, did in her ad responding — not at all — to claims made by her Democratic opponent.

“I’m Terri Lynn Land. Congressman Peters and his buddies want you to believe I’m waging a war on women,” she says to the camera. “Really?” she asks before telling ad-watchers to ponder that thought. For the next 13 seconds, while elevator music plays, Land does nothing other than drink coffee (we think) from a mug, shake her head and look at her watch.

When she finally decides to speak, she wastes two more seconds giving her name, as if we forgot, before saying, “I approve this message because, as a woman, I might know a little bit more about women than Gary Peters.” That’s it. Nothing else to see here.

Republican pollster Frank Lutz called it “the worst ad of the political process.” The ad, he said, “doesn’t give any message, it doesn’t tell you anything about her, and it doesn’t communicate any sense of substance. She’s a challenger, she has to prove where she stands, she doesn’t do it. That ad should be off the air.”

But, Frank, tell us how you REALLY feel.

— by D’Angelo Gore and the FactCheck.org Awards Committee