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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

The 2016 FactCheck Awards

We highlight some TV ads that made us laugh out loud and either shake our heads or scratch them.


We love the work we do. But holding politicians accountable — especially in this election — can be draining. We bet you know how we feel.

After 20-some debates, countless rallies, the party conventions and an endless supply of viral claims, we could all use a little comic relief.

And as usual, there were several TV ads this election cycle that managed to provide just that. So, as we do every two years, we honor those ads that were notable for their humor, oddities and uniqueness with the (not really) coveted FactCheck.org Awards.

This election cycle’s standouts include ads about a chatty county commissioner who likes housework, a deadly arachnid without a name, a septuagenarian rock star who doesn’t talk, and a former secretary of state with serious anger issues.

Read on for the list of winners.


  The Happiest Homemaker Award
Winner: Gerald Daugherty, Travis County Commissioner

Gerald Daugherty has discovered he likes helping out around the house. Charlyn, his wife, is visibly unenthused about him spending so much time there. So, in this viral hit, she pleads with voters to make sure that her husband stays employed as Travis County commissioner in Texas.

In the opening scene, Charlyn stares out the window, and then back at Gerald, as he goes on about jail costs while washing dishes. “Gerald really doesn’t have any hobbies,” she says.

Later, Gerald, while grilling, talks to a man about tax rates. Then, he discusses his county’s light rail system as his dinner companions try to enjoy their steaks.

“All he wants to do is fix things,” Charyln says before we see Gerald load the washer and proclaim, to Charyln’s apparent horror, “I think I like helping around the house here.”

Having heard enough, Charyln says to the camera: “Please reelect Gerald. Please.”

We would certainly help her out if we lived in Texas.


The Size Matters Award
Winner: Americans Against Insecure Billionaires with Tiny Hands PAC

Sen. Marco Rubio isn’t the only one who regrets that he mentioned the size of Donald Trump’s hands during the presidential primaries. Believe us.

Though insults about Trump’s hands, his fingers in particular, date back to at least the 1980s, Rubio’s comments on the campaign trail unfortunately brought them renewed attention and likely led to the Americans Against Insecure Billionaires with Tiny Hands PAC.

In this TV ad, the spoof group calls on Trump to release his hand measurements because “it’s time that our country learned every inch of the truth.”

“If the White House phone rings at 3 a.m., would his little hands even pick up the receiver?” a woman in the ad asks. Another says: “How can he create jobs if his hands are too small to shake on the deal?” A man follows that up with: “When he decides to launch his nuclear war, will his stubby fingers even be able to push the button all the way down?”

For the record, Trump said the size of his hands, and other body parts, are just fine.

“Look at those hands, are they small hands?” Trump asked onlookers at a debate in March. “And [Rubio] referred to my hands — ‘If they’re small, something else must be small.’ I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee,” Trump said.

 Thanks. That’s more information than we ever wanted to know.


The Reagan Retread Award
Winner: Sen. Ted Cruz, former candidate for president

Ted Cruz loves Ronald Reagan. A lot. No surprise then that Reagan’s memorable 1984 TV ad “The Bear” was the inspiration for Cruz’s 2015 TV ad “Scorpion.”

“There’s a scorpion in the desert. For most of us, its venom is a clear and deadly threat. But others refuse to even speak its name,” the ad’s narrator says. “Since the scorpion seeks our destruction, isn’t it time we recognize the scorpion for what it is, before it strikes again?”

OK, so what is it? A TV show? A movie? A wrestler?

The bear in the woods in Reagan’s ad symbolized the Cold War-era Soviet Union. Our best guess is that the scorpion in Cruz’s ad is supposed to represent “radical Islamic terrorism,” the phrase that Republicans, like Cruz, want President Obama and other Democrats to use to describe acts of terror committed in the name of Islam.

But as “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert observed, while the ad criticizes others for refusing to speak the scorpion’s name, neither does the ad’s narrator. That’s not helpful.

Marco Rubio was in the running for this award, too. His remake, “Morning Again” — which opened with the classic Reagan ad line, “It’s morning again in America” — messed up by showing morning in Vancouver, Canada. Also, Reagan’s ad was uplifting. Rubio’s is a buzzkill.


The Gladiator Award for Best Fight
Winner: ‘Hillary Clinton’ vs. A Computer Tower

It wasn’t a fair fight, but we were entertained watching a Hillary Clinton impersonator and her aides take turns beating down a personal computer tower.

The TV ad, another from Cruz’s campaign, is a parody of a scene from the 1999 film “Office Space.” It targets Clinton for her much discussed use of a private email system to conduct government business as secretary of state. The music is derived from the Geto Boys’ “Damn It Feels Good to be a Gangsta,” though the explicit lyrics have been reworked.

“Damn it feels good to be a Clinton. A shameless politician always plays her cards right,” a man raps. “Got a crew for the fight on the airwaves. Lap dogs in the press keep their mouths tight. Cause a Clinton never needs to explain what. Why it is. What they done or wit’ who. A real Clinton knows that they’re entitled and you don’t get to know what they do.”

About 25 seconds into the ad, which did air on TV in South Carolina, the Clinton look-alike goes full ape on the machine. Her partners in crime battle have to restrain her.

At the time it was released, the ad seemed far-fetched. That is, until the FBI’s notes of its investigation revealed a Clinton aide said that he could recall getting rid of two of Clinton’s old mobile devices by breaking them in half or hitting them with a hammer. A writer for Wired actually said the aide didn’t go far enough to ensure that data on the devices were destroyed. Perhaps this ad is more what Wired had in mind.


The Hidden Talent Award
Winner: Jason Kander, candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri

Here, Jason Kander, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Missouri, puts together a semi-automatic rifle. Blindfolded.

“I’m Jason Kander and Senator Blunt has been attacking me on guns,” he says, calling out Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, who Kander hopes to unseat. “Well, in the Army, I learned how to use and respect my rifle,” Kander says, before explaining that he supports the Second Amendment but believes in background checks “so terrorists can’t get their hands” on one of the rifles he has just assembled. Blindfolded.

“I approve this message, because I’d like to see Senator Blunt do this,” Kander says at the end of the ad in a serious mic drop moment.

We were more than impressed, and kind of surprised to see a candidate do something other than fire a gun for a change. Blunt, however, was underwhelmed. His retort was a TV ad with YouTube footage of other people — not him — also blindly assembling a gun.


The Sound of Silence Award
Winner: Sen. Bernie Sanders, former candidate for president

We don’t know how he did it, but time and time again, Sanders got thousands and thousands of rowdy people to show up and watch him say nothing. At least that’s the way it looks in this popular TV spot. Sanders appears on screen multiple times throughout the ad, but doesn’t say a word until he offers his approval.

Instead, the ad, called “America,” is set to the song of the same name by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. “They’ve all come to look for America,” the lyrics say. The ad premiered ahead of the Iowa caucuses and focuses on small-town families, businesses and cows, too.

Some criticized the ad for featuring mostly white Americans, so a second version was produced focusing on a more diverse group of people. Either one was still more positive than almost any other ad of the campaign cycle. It captures the movement that almost carried Sanders to the Democratic nomination.

Hillary Clinton said that she “loved” the ad. And because of WikiLeaks, we know that it was so moving that it made Clinton’s communications director cry. We wonder how they would look back on the ad if Sanders had won.


The Award for Most Baffling Ad about Border Security
Winner: Mike Pape, former candidate for U.S. House in Kentucky

Ay dios mío. This TV ad from Mike Pape is so muddled it’s not surprising that he ran an ineffective campaign, losing badly in the Republican primary for Kentucky’s 1st District.

We see what must be three really bad hombres illegally enter the U.S. by cutting through a flimsy border fence with wire cutters. But why are they all speaking mostly in English? And why is “vámonos” the only Spanish word that gets translated in the ad’s subtitles? And why would they even care if Obamacare is repealed or not since they don’t qualify for it? Did they fall for those bogus GOP claims from 2009 that illegal immigrants would get free health care? And are we supposed to believe that’s what the current fence along the border looks like? Because it doesn’t.

“Once through, we’ll stop Donald Trump. Sí, and Ted Cruz, too. And señor Mike Pape,” the men say in turn. But two of the men have never heard of Pape, even though the third man has been wearing a “Stop Pape” T-sh‏irt the whole time. The man explains that Pape is “the conservative running for Congress who will help Trump build the wall.” “Will this Mike Pape help Ted Cruz repeal Obamacare?” another man asks. “Sí,” the man out to stop Pape says.

Listening to these men, you’d think that Trump and Cruz planned to be co-presidents. We can see why they’d want to stop Trump from building a wall they can’t cut through, but why does one of the men have duct tape? And is his mustache real? It doesn’t look like it. And where did that same man get a lantern? The other men have flashlights.

Perhaps the most bizarre thing about the ad is that if Mike Pape is so concerned about border security, why does he do nothing at the end of the ad as the three men sneak right pass him into the U.S. It turns out the man concerned about Pape had nothing to worry about.


The All Saints Award
Winner: Francis Rooney, candidate for U.S. House in Florida

Congress would get a lot more done if our representatives and senators were as selfless as Mother Teresa, the nun who devoted her life to helping the poor and was declared a saint this year. Lucky for us, at least one person running for Congress is just like her.

“I had the privilege to work for Mother Teresa of Calcutta,” says Jim Towey of Ave Maria, Florida, which obviously means he knows what he’s talking about.

“Mother Teresa always spoke very eloquently about the sanctity of life. We need those kinds of individuals in Washington. Francis Rooney’s one of those people that’s going to give voice to those same values that Mother Teresa espoused, starting with defending the sanctity of life and defunding Planned Parenthood. He embraces what Mother Teresa lived. We need more people like Francis Rooney in Washington.”

We’re pretty confident that Towey just nominated Rooney for sainthood. And why not? No, Rooney, a Republican businessman worth millions, wasn’t responsible for the occurrence of any miracles that we are aware of. But he was the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See in Rome for several years. That must count for something.


The Award for Daffiest Celebrity Endorsement
Winner: Phil Robertson, Duck Commander

The “Duck Dynasty” patriarch is now a two-time FactCheck.org award winner — this time, for his appearance in a TV ad endorsing none other than 2016 ad champ Ted Cruz.

“My qualifications for president of the United States are rather narrow,” Robertson says. “Is he or she godly? Does he or she love us? Can he or she do the job? And, finally, would they kill a duck and put ’em in a pot and make ’em a good duck gumbo?” All good questions.

At first, we thought Robertson was talking about himself, since he referred to “my qualifications for president.” But we soon realized he meant Cruz, who is shown duck hunting with Robertson and wearing black face paint that concerns us. We won’t go there, but we will note that we never see Cruz kill a duck or even cook one for dinner.

Anyway, Robertson is clearly skilled at endorsing candidates in unconventional ways. If only he was as good at backing a winner.

Of course, Cruz, his 2016 presidential pick, lost the Republican presidential primary to Donald Trump. And in 2014, Zach Dasher, Robertson’s nephew, whom he endorsed in his other award-winning ad appearance, lost his race to become a U.S. congressman for Louisiana.

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