Why Christine O'Donnell's New Ad Might Work


It begins with the candidate, to camera, announcing to voters that she, Christine O'Donnell, is not a witch. One's temptation at this point would be to stop right here and begin to laugh like a hyena at a comedy show featuring the Dave Chappelle of hyenas. Your average media personality or political consultant might hearken back to Richard Nixon's "I am not a crook" press conference declaration and say that candidates should never use negative language in television ads, because it presumes the candidate isn't telling you what he or she IS.

Conventional wisdom about denials in ads is true in most cases. It wouldn't be good for David Vitter to deny that he visited prostitutes, or for Charles Rangel to deny on camera that he abused power.

But Christine O'Donnell is not an ordinary candidate. Democrats and media elites (and plenty of Republicans) have thrown everything at O'Donnell, some of it fair, and some of it silly. O'Donnell is obviously not a witch; indeed, the claim against her is one that she brought up, albeit years ago, on Bill Maher's show: she dabbled in witchcraft. To my secular ears, that sounds hilarious. To O'Donnell, it was a religious indiscretion, part of her journey into Christendom. Whatever it is, it's out there. It makes O'Donnell look silly. So O'Donnell's concession in the ad defuses some of the tension about her witchcraft experimentation, and it might help inoculate her against some of the more valid charges, like her propensity to fudge her resume, or maybe even her opposition to masturbation.

Safe to say the political class will be talking about the "witch" part, which will allow O'Donnell to play the victim even more than she is already.  If there's one thing non-Tea Party Republicans and Tea Party Republicans have in common, it's that they resent and distrust the media when it pokes fun at another Republican.

More concretely, let's focus on the "I'm you" tag line, which is questionable. I'm you, she says. I'm frustrated with backroom deals, spending, trading favors. I don't know how many Delawareans identify with Christine O'Donnell as much as they dis-identify with Republicans, Democrats, and Washington. (Notice that O'Donnell does not refer to her party affiliation.)

A note on iconography: the piano accompaniment, the pearl necklace and the blue dress are meant to evoke maturity and thoughtfulness. O'Donnell is a fast talker, but she slows down here. Does it work? Does she seem more mature? How do you see this ad?

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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