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The best campaign ads of 2010

By Chris Cillizza
The discontent of the American public with politics as usual in the 2010 cycle forced ad makers to dig deep for new and creative ways to reach -- and persuade -- voters.

And, the media gurus were more than up to the task. The midterms election was a golden age of political television advertising with dozens of terrific -- and terrifically outside the box -- commercials impacting races across the country.

Picking the best of the best then is a very difficult job. But, with the help of the Fix posse -- FixAaaron and FixFelicia -- as well as chats with a number of political operatives who watched hundreds and hundreds of spots over the last few months, a consensus emerged.

Our winners for the past positive and negative ads are below and the runners-up are after the jump. For the purposes of this competition, we excluded any ads that ran during primary races -- since we had already issued our top ten spots from primary season -- as well as any web videos. (So, no, there is no "Demon Sheep" in our best of 2010 list. Sorry to disappoint.)

What did we miss? The comments section awaits.

The best positive ad of the 2010 cycle goes to Wisconsin Sen.-elect Ron Johnson (R) for his "Whiteboard" commercial.

As we wrote at the time of its release, the ad, which was produced by On Message Media, stood out from the pack for the simplicity of its visuals and message.

The image of a whiteboard on screen immediately drew the eye and the facts on it -- there are 57 Senators who are lawyers while there is a dearth of business people like Johnson -- was easy to digest and pitch perfect for this election cycle.

Ditto Johnson's closest argument in the ad: "I know how to balance a budget and I do know how to create jobs. Now that's something we can really use."

So effective was the ad that by the end of the campaign -- and with polling showing Johnson comfortably ahead -- Feingold made a last-ditch ad attempting to undermine the power of the whiteboard. It didn't work.

The best negative ad of the 2010 cycle was "Echo", a commercial run by California Gov.-elect Jerry Brown (D) against former eBay CEO Meg Whitman (R).

Whitman spent the entirety of her campaign for governor -- and hundreds of millions of her own dollars -- presenting herself as a new sort of politician without any ties to those who had come before her.

This ad, which was produced by Joe Trippi, demolished that idea -- splicing clips from deeply unpopular outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and virtually identical comments from Whitman to devastating effect.

Soon after the ad began airing, Brown began to stretch his lead out over Whitman and went on to an 11-point victory. Television is still king in California and Brown's ad is rightly understood as the death blow to Whitman's chances of becoming governor.

Runners-up for best positive/negative ad of 2010

* "Dead Aim": West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) needed something drastic to show voters that he wouldn't just be a rubberstamp for President Obama's agenda if elected to the Senate. This ad did the trick -- featuring an image of Manchin taking aim and shooting -- literally -- at the cap and trade bill passed by the House. It was a high risk, high reward move that clearly helped turn the race back in Manchin's favor.

* "A Generational Choice": As we noted in naming him the best candidate of 2010, Florida Sen.-elect Marco Rubio (R) has his fair share of natural political abilities. But, even taking that into consideration, this ad stood out -- a two-minute reflection on where Rubio had come from and where he wanted to help lead the country. Making a two-minute ad effective is tough -- peoples' attention spans keep shrinking -- but this one did the job.

* "Shower": One of our lasting images of this cycle was Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper showering in his suit. The quirkiness of the ad played into Hickenlooper's off-beat personality and reinforced the fact that he was a different sort of politician. Sure, the ad was likely only possible because Republicans' self-destruction made this a walk-over for Hickenlooper, but creativity and inventiveness deserve praise no matter the context.

* "Own Words": This ad, which was run by Florida Rep. Kendrick Meek (D), strung together past pronouncements by Gov. Charlie Crist's (I) about his conservative credentials and his admiration for GOP leaders like Sarah Palin to remind Democratic voters -- who Crist was courting -- about his wildly-swinging partisanship. In 30 seconds, Crist effectively makes the case against himself; no words other than Crist's are used in the ad -- and none are necessary.

* "Sharron Angle Wouldn't Fight for Nevada Jobs": Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), who earlier this week won the Fix's best campaign of 2010 award, did a very effective job in using former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle's (R) words against her. That strategy was typified in this ad -- narrated by a carpenter named Garland Welch -- in which clips of Angle saying that she didn't believe creating jobs was the job of a senator are interspersed with commentary by Welch. "To me, it seems like the only job Sharron Angle wants to fight for is hers," says Welch at the ad's conclusion.

* "Tie Rack": Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams (D) wound up coming up way short in the Alaska Senate race but, in the process, ran some of the best positive ads we saw all cycle. This ad, which featured McAdams tying (and untying) a series of ties, was our favorite -- due in no small part to the subtle but clear homage to the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R) in its closing moments.

* "Baron Hill's Failed Policies": The National Republican Congressional Committee attacked a number of Democratic candidates on the economic stimulus package and the money that went to job creation in China. But, none was done more effectively than this one against Indiana Rep. Baron Hill -- from the menacing music in the background to the tag line "We fired him once".

* "Vote": The Fix is a sucker for cute kids -- it's the Fix Jr. influence -- and no one used their cute kids in an ad more effectively than Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (D). This commercial, which ran in the final days of the campaign and featured the senator's three young daughters working to turn out the vote, was a smart way to soften his image amid the unrelenting negative ads that dominated this race.

* "Brad Zaun is Wrong for Iowa": The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's ad on comments made about the flooding in Iowa by state Sen. Brad Zaun (R) proved that sometimes a local issue -- if it is cutting enough -- can trump a national wave. The use of Zaun's own words alleging that Iowans forgot "personal responsibility" in handling the floods was damning but the ad's tagline really closed the deal: "Iowans needed a hand. Brad Zaun gave us a lecture." Oomph.

Watch all the ads:

By Chris Cillizza  | November 18, 2010; 3:36 PM ET
Categories:  Fix Notes  
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Next: Afternoon Fix: House GOP backs earmark ban; censure recommended for Rangel; DSCC chairman decision delayed until Christmas

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