We are very serious fact-checkers, but we also like to have a bit of fun. That’s why every two years, on Election Day, we recognize a few of the many political ads we see during the campaign cycle with some not-to-be-taken-seriously awards.
A couple of things that stood out among this year’s honorees: historically bad logic, comically bad rapping and dancing, and a lot of tragically bad acting.
Vote, if you haven’t already, and then read on.
The Older Than Moses Award
for an Oversight of Biblical Proportions
Winner: Gov. Ron DeSantis
This late submission just made the cutoff for awards eligibility. But the ad-makers overlooked an important detail in their haste to meet our deadline.
A deep-voiced narrator begins: “And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said: ‘I need a protector.’ So God made a fighter.”
As the narrator — reminiscent of the late radio broadcaster Paul Harvey — continues to recount all of the reasons that God made a fighter, black-and-white photos of DeSantis are shown on screen.
We weren’t sure if the ad was the last one of his Florida gubernatorial reelection campaign, or the first of his rumored 2024 presidential run. Something else about the ad stumped us.
If DeSantis is the fighter, and God made him on the eighth day, as the ad suggests, wouldn’t DeSantis be several thousand years old by now?
But he’s a fighter, so we guess he fought through the aging thing.
Most Likely to Hold a Grudge
Winner: Brent Gold, in a Larry Elder Recall Newsom Ballot Committee Ad
It wouldn’t surprise us if this same honor was bestowed upon Gold in his high school yearbook. This TV ad from California’s 2021 recall election featured Gold raging at Democrat Gavin Newsom, whose behavior as governor during the pandemic brought back memories of a bad romance.
“You remind me of the guy in high school who took my girlfriend, then went on to the next girl,” Gold says of Newsom. “You still think you’re better than everyone else.”
He also apparently was mad that the governor prevented him from getting a good cup of coffee for weeks, and because Newsom got to dine at the fancy French Laundry restaurant despite COVID-19 restrictions. (Others were upset about that one, too.)
Gold told Variety that it was actually a college girlfriend who ditched him – but that he had moved past it. “It was a long time ago. It’s an irrelevancy for me,” he said.
That’s debatable. He revealed that ad-makers had to ask him to dial back his aggression, and that he had wanted to use stronger language to express himself. We can only imagine how angry Gold was when Newsom beat the attempted recall.
TikTok Dance Challenge Gone Wrong
Winner: Linda Paulson, Candidate for State Senate in Utah
Rapping is not easy. Dancing is not easy. Doing them simultaneously is even harder. Ask Linda Paulson, who had trouble with all of the above in this viral ad.
“Hey, Utah District 12, listen up right here/There’s a new name on the ballot for the Senate this year,” she raps at the beginning, showing a little bit of promise. But her flow was never quite the same after that.
The great-grandmother who had never run for office was a reluctant political candidate in 2022. This ad wasn’t exactly her idea, either. The rap, which summarizes her conservative platform, was written by her daughter as a birthday present. Paulson liked it so much she decided she was game to make the video, which was recorded in her backyard.
Anyone who watched it might not be shocked to learn that Paulson later said she had never “really listened to rap” before, and that her daughter, who also did the editing, had to (try to) keep her on beat while filming. Better lyrics might have helped.
Although she wasn’t very good, Paulson did say that she had fun and was open to doing similar videos going forward. Thankfully, she hasn’t.
The (Almost) Campaign Ad
Trailblazer of the Year
Winner: Gary Chambers, candidate for U.S. Senate in Louisiana
Although Chambers never officially said it in this online ad, it wasn’t that hard to figure out that he supports the legalization of marijuana. What gave it away? He lit a blunt, smoked it and recited a bunch of marijuana enforcement statistics that don’t seem to make sense to him.
“Every 37 seconds, someone is arrested for possession of marijuana,” Chambers, a social justice advocate, says in a voice-over in the 37-second ad called “37 seconds.” There actually was about one arrest every 185 seconds in 2021, according to the latest available FBI data, but we understood the point that Chambers was making anyway.
Some reported that it may have been the first time a major-party candidate smoked marijuana in an ad. It’s not; at least one other congressional candidate did so in 2019.
Chambers wasn’t even the only candidate to do so this election cycle. About three months after his ad, another Senate candidate, Democrat Thomas McDermott, released an ad in which he and others also smoked a joint outdoors – just in a different state.
Chambers will have to settle for (maybe) being the first to light up in an ad, in a blue suit, sitting in a black chair, alone in a New Orleans field, while it’s raining. That’s still award worthy.
Western Film Destined to Spur Outrage
Winner: Jim Lamon, former candidate for U.S. Senate in Arizona
Lamon didn’t make it past the GOP primary. This cinematic spot – a version of which aired in Tucson during the Super Bowl – may have been a contributing factor.
Set in the Wild West of Arizona, Lamon saunters in wearing his best chaps and white hat for a showdown with the “D.C. Gang” of lookalikes portraying President Joe Biden, Sen. Mark Kelly and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Lamon stands up to the trio on behalf of the townspeople, who vent their frustration with “being pushed around,” including a stagecoach driver inexplicably concerned about gas prices.
Mark Lamb, a real sheriff, and Brandon Judd, a real president, later appear on screen to make it three on three. But their assistance was not needed as Lamon was too quick on the draw, disarming the politicians in seconds and causing them to scurry away.
Lamon’s tough-guy act wasn’t just for the ad, either. He also didn’t back down from the ad’s many critics – including Republicans – who thought the use of guns was in poor taste. (Kelly’s wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona, nearly died after being shot in the head by a mentally ill man in 2011.)
To those whom Lamon angered, we say it could’ve been worse. Lamon could’ve produced an ad like that of former Republican Senate candidate Eric Greitens, where he went “RINO hunting” — and we’re not talking about the animals.
The Alternative Robert Altman Award for Most Unnatural Ensemble
Winner: Gratiot County Republicans
Speaking of a gang of bad actors, the cast of characters in this online ad won’t be winning any other awards for their performances – not the good kind anyway.
A group of real Michigan bikers stopped riding long enough to get together in a sort of semicircle and complain about Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. But their interaction comes off like a poorly directed stage play or sketch, if we’re being generous.
In the one-minute video, released last month, the less-than-magnificent seven take turns mostly criticizing Whitmer’s handling of the pandemic. They also claim she broke her promise “to fix the damn roads,” which – if accurate – could actually be a problem for them.
One of the men is so annoyed with Whitmer he declares he will vote for “the other chick,” whose name he doesn’t remember. The other members of his crew remind him that it’s Tudor Dixon.
Dixon didn’t seem to mind the slight; she promoted the video on Twitter and thanked the local GOP organization that paid for it. The video reportedly came at a time when her campaign had been badly outspent on ads, so the widely panned spot was clearly welcomed nonetheless.
Best Gender Reveal
Winner: Katie Darling, candidate for U.S. House in Louisiana
Democratic candidates in Louisiana this year were doing all kinds of things we don’t normally see in political ads. Darling went viral with this extremely personal ad in which viewers were treated to visuals of her before and immediately after giving birth.
The ad starts with Darling, who lives on a farm, humbly bragging that her family composts, collects rainwater, grows their own food and is nice to chickens. In a voice-over, the then-very pregnant businesswoman goes on to say that she is concerned about climate change, public school education and the state’s new abortion law, which she calls one of “the strictest” and “most severe” in the nation.
Darling said she decided to run for Congress after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, when she was seven months pregnant.
Later, we see Darling in the delivery room, grimacing and breathing deeply. After she says she’s running to put Louisiana on a better path for everyone, the camera cuts to her in a hospital bed, revealing her new son, “him” – though that’s probably not his name.
It was the most well-produced gender reveal we’ve seen in a while. Even better, no fires were started in the process.
The Patches O’Houlihan Award for Dodging, Ducking, Dipping, Diving and Dodging
Winner: Tim Michels, candidate for governor in Wisconsin
The eccentric coach of the Average Joes memorably said: “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.” But what about a sink? If the same rule applies, Michels should probably be everyone’s first pick for their dodgeball team.
The conservative businessman and veteran demonstrated a mastery of four of the five Ds in this TV ad meant to illustrate how his Democratic opponent was tossing everything at him, including, well, sinks.
“Tony Evers and his cronies are throwing the kitchen sink at me,” says Michels, surrounded by a lot of porcelain and steel. He mentioned kitchen sinks, specifically, but we saw some bathroom wares being tossed around, too. The sinks of all kinds were supposed to represent the many “false attacks” that Michels said had been lobbed at him during the campaign.
But Michels is so skilled at the art of the dodge that he outmaneuvered all of the sinks sent flying his way. He even catches one at the ad’s end. To quote a billionaire who recently purchased a social media platform, “let that sink in.”
Imitation Bad-Anon Award for Least Supportive Group of Villains
Winner: Russell Fry, candidate for U.S. House in South Carolina
Shame on us for thinking the likes of Lucifer and Harry Potter’s Dolores Umbridge could be helpful. The notorious baddies in this 30-second ad show little patience for a stand-in for Republican Rep. Tom Rice, the new guy in their “Villains’ Anonymous” group. He did something that went too far even for some of them.
The fake Rice starts by introducing himself and disclosing his alleged misdeeds, such as being a politician and flip-flopping on term limits and taxes. But when he reveals that he voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for his role in the 2021 attack on the Capitol, the meeting room becomes the opposite of the “safe space” that the Joker said it was – and he’s asked to leave.
“Let’s kick another villain out of D.C.,” says the narrator of the ad for Russell Fry, who defeated the real Rice in the GOP primary. (A longer version of the ad included an appearance by someone portraying the much vilified Dr. Anthony Fauci.)
It was sad to see that the sham Rice didn’t find the emotional support he was looking for. But if Maleficent and an unidentified older pirate won’t lend an ear, we know of at least nine other people he could probably call.
The Energizer Bunny Award for the Ad That Keeps Going and Going
Winner: Shri Thanedar, candidate for U.S. House in Michigan
Voters may have felt like they were being haunted by political ads this election, but it’s unlikely they experienced anything like Thanedar does.
The Democratic candidate can’t go anywhere or talk to anyone without being interrupted by the voice of a meddling narrator. It’s like being in an ad that never ends.
While Thanedar is talking to potential voters in a barbershop, the narrator chimes in to let workers and patrons know that Thanedar is a scientist and Michigan state representative. While the candidate is giving a speech about what it’s like to struggle, the narrator jumps in to inform Thanedar’s audience that “he’ll work to lower the cost of prescription drugs and fix our supply chains.”
He can’t even escape the omnipresent voice when having dinner with his wife and discussing his day.
Unlike Thanedar, who seems to have adjusted to his circumstances, we’re looking forward to not having to hear any campaign ad voice-overs for quite a while.
— by D’Angelo Gore and the FactCheck.org Awards Committee
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