The Political Ad Game I: The Doppelgänger Effect



Some political ads of the attack variety employ the age-old technique of “guilt by association” — the idea being So-and-So is bad. Or Such-and-Such is bad. And you’re (he’s/she’s) connected to So-and-So, so you’re (he’s/she’s) bad, too!

EXHIBIT ONE: Here’s a first-class example, in a mailer sent out last week by the Dan Michael for Juvenile Court Judge campaign.

Dan Michaels attack ad
  • Dan Michael's attack ad

The ad builds on the established reality that “Judge Joe Brown,” the Democratic nominee for District Attorney General announced his support, early on, for the campaign for Juvenile Court Judge of Memphis city Judge Tarik Sugarmon, Brown’s fellow party nominee.

Moreover, Sugarmon was glad to have Brown’s support, seeing it as a real boost, especially earlier in the campaign year. Probably Sugarmon is still pleased at the endorsement, which no doubt continues to be worth coattail votes in certain quarters of the electorate.

In others….not so much, particularly after Brown’s off-the-cuff-gone-viral assertions — shocking and oh-so-uncorroborated — earlier this month about the imagined sexual and social predilections of his opponent, incumbent D.A. Amy Weirich.

In those other quarters — containing Republican and an indeterminate number of Democratic, swing, and independent voters— Brown’s act was a No-No that, along with other provocative acts by the former Criminal Court Judge and TV eminence, makes him something of a fright-wig and a GOTV stimulus.

Brown is unique this year in apparently having the effect of a getting-out-the-vote agent on both sides of the party line, for utterly opposite reasons.

EXHIBIT TWO: But if guilt-by-association is a long-established ad variety, the opposite kind of ad — call it credit-by-association (which, by the way, was what the original Brown-Sugarmon connection was supposed to be about) — has a lengthy pedigree, as well, usually in the form of simple endorsement ads: Joe Good-likes-Candidate-X; there Candidate-X is good.

An ad put out this month in a mailer for General Sessions Judge Lynn Cobb’s reelection campaign employs the principle in a novel, even creative way. Cobb, a Republican of long standing, is attempting to run a broad, middle-of-the-road campaign (judiciary races are, after all, supposed to be non-partisan).

To that end, the jurist signed on two campaign-chairs, one Republican, the other Democratic. The latter, County Commissioner-elect Van Turner, is in fact the immediate past chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party. He is, moreover, African American and, as such, a possible bridge into a constituency that Cobb could certainly not take for granted and that could be expected to learn toward his opponent, Sheila Bruce-Renfroe.

Hence, perhaps, this mail piece:

Lynn Cobbs ad with Van Turner
  • Lynn Cobb's ad with Van Turner

In one sense, this is a conventional endorsement ad, with Turner saying his I-Like-Lynn-Cobb piece. But the close juxtaposition of Turner’s image with the name of Cobb and with the office he seeks surely communicates to the casual observer the idea that Lynn Cobb is black.

Nwr, let’s face facts: This ain't an accident. The ad, as the supporters of Bruce-Renfroe have said in so many words (some of them unprintable) is pure chutzpah.

Have at it, readers: Which of these two ads will best succeed in boosting the election chances of the sponsoring candidate?

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