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The Best Campaign Commercials of 2006

As any regular reader knows, The Fix LOVES campaign commercials. We spend hours watching them over the final weeks of the campaign and relish either a really nicely crafted positive ad or a stinging negative one.

So what better way to spend election eve than debating the best ads of the cycle? As with our list of best and worst campaigns, The Fix surveyed pollsters, media consultants and campaign strategists to determine the 10 best.

Sound off in the comments section below with your own suggestions.

The 10 Best Campaign Ads of 2006 (in no particular order):

Jon Tester for Senate ("Haircut"): The first television ad of Tester's Senate candidacy in Montana, it effectively defined him as a different kind of Democrat. "He'll make the United States look a little bit more like Montana," says the ad's narrator as Tester received a trim to his trademark flat top. Produced by Laguens Hamburger Kully Klose, the commercial framed the entirety of the campaign's message: Tester was a real Montanan while Sen. Conrad Burns (R) had forgotten his home state roots.

Nancy Johnson for Congress ("National Security"): This ad, made for Johnson by Jamestown Associates, found a creative way to introduce the Bush administration's surveillance program into a campaign. It feels like an interrupted communique between intellegence agencies and features a narrator asking: "A call is placed from New York to a known terrorist in Pakistan. A terrorist plot may be unfolding. Should the government intercept that call or wait until the paperwork is filed?" Interestingly, though this ad was cited as one of the cycle's best by numerous operatives of both partisan stripes, one GOP strategist noted that Johnson's numbers actually went down after the spot aired -- a sign that while it may have looked and sounded good it may well have not been all that effective in moving votes.

Harold Ford for Senate ("Church"): Ford's entire ad campaign may have been the best set of commercials this cycle, so it's difficult to choose just one. But this spot, where Ford goes back to his childhood church to paint himself as a man of faith and family, is particularly effective. "Here I learned the difference between right and wrong," says Ford, accusing his opponent -- former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker -- of "doing wrong." The ad's tagline drives that message home -- "I won't let them make me someone I'm not and I'll always fight for you."

Michael Steele for Senate ("Puppy"): Steele's ad campaign, engineered by On Message Inc., has been brilliantly unconventional. Much like Ford's commercials, all of Steele's ads were strong, but our favorite is the one that has become known as the "puppy ad." In it, Steele wants viewers to expect "negative ads from the Washington crowd" alleging that he "hates puppies...and worse." He goes on to cast himself as the change agent in the race, calling for a ban on all gifts from lobbyists and a prohibition on last-minute amendments to spending bills. "Washington can't fix our problems until we fix theirs," says Steele. The ad closes on a comical note with him holding a puppy. The fact that Steele even has a chance to win tomorrow in a state as blue as Maryland is a testament to his campaign and more specifically his campaign ads.

Heather Wilson for Congress ("Debate"): Actors in ads are great, but actual footage of your opponent stumbling is political gold. This ad is a perfect example. Taken from a debate between Wilson and state Attorney General Patricia Madrid (D), it shows Wilson asking Madrid to provide "some kind of reassurance that you will prevent a tax increase." Madrid gasps audibly as she stares -- apparently stunned -- at the camera. "Your president and you..." she begins before again trailing off. "Patricia Madrid: Don't Take the Risk" then flashes across the screen. WOW. Dawson McCarthy Nelson made this ad and all of Wilson's spots -- some of the best commercials of the cycle.

Ned Lamont for Senate ("Bush morph"): Ads that morph one politician into another are a Fix favorite. So we couldn't leave this spot off the list. Produced by Bill Hillsman, two images of President Bush are shown on screen as the voice of Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) says things like "in matters of war we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril" and "we are now at a point where the war in Iraq is a war of necessity." Lieberman's face then pops on screen and slowly morphs into Bush's visage as a narrator intones: "If it talks like George W. Bush and acts like George W. Bush it's certainly not a Connecticut Democrat." Powerful stuff. Unfortunately for Lamont, this ad marked the zenith of his campaign.

Tennessee Senate -- Republican National Committee ("Playboy Party"): No ad drew more attention (and criticism) than this spot sponsored by the RNC and produced by Scott Howell. A satire, it features faux man on the street interviews. One man dressed in camouflage says "Ford's right. I do have too many guns" and "Canada can take care of North Korea...they're not busy." The controversy is over the appearance of a young, scantily clad white woman who says she met Ford at a party at the Playboy mansion. At the end of the ad, she coos: "Harold, call me." Democrats alleged that the ad sought to play on fears of interracial dating among Tennessee voters; Republicans insisted they had done nothing wrong. Morally right or wrong? We leave that debate to others. Effective? You bet.

Bill Richardson for Governor: ("Western"): For sheer creativeness and chutzpah, it's hard to beat this ad produced by Murphy Putnam for Richardson's reelection campaign. The ad, which mimics a Western, portrays Richardson as the new sheriff in town -- complete with the cowboy hat and boots. The ad touts Richardson's accomplishments on jailing violent criminals, creating jobs and luring move production into the state. Richardson's trademark humor is also on display; he walks into a saloon and deadpans: "Give me a milk." If you're wondering why so many political people are looking forward to Richardson's likely run for president in 2008, look no further than this ad.

Larry Grant for Congress: ("Republicans Speak Out"): Idaho's open 2nd District was not expected to be closely fought this fall. But this ad run by Democrat Larry Grant and produced by Fenn Communications proved incredibly effective in raising questions among Republicans about their candidate -- state Rep. Bill Sali. The ad quotes three different Republican legislators calling Sali "incompetent," an "obstinate opportunist" and an "absolute idiot." Ouch. Sali may still win this one but with friends like that...

Chris Carney for Congress ("Father"): We wondered how (and whether) Carney would capitalize on Rep. Don Sherwood's (R) admission of an extramarital affair and allegations that he had abused his mistress. This ad, made for Carney by Julian Mulvey, showed a savviness that we didn't expect. It featured a man named Joseph Lech who says, "I'm, a Republican who supported Don Sherwood from the very beginning. He campaign on family values and he didn't keep up to his promise." As clips with the words "repeatedly choked" and "attempted to strangle plaintiff" appear on the screen, Lech says the he has spoken to his daughter about the incident and she was "disgusted by it." He adds: "How can I tell her that I support Don Sherwood and feel good about myself?" Devastating.

Honorable Mentions

* Indiana -- Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ("Chocolate"): Produced by Murphy Putnam, this commercial effectively cast Rep. Chris Chocola (R) as beholden to oil and gas interests. The ad describes a "love affair" between Chocola and those industries, showing them exchanging flowers, chocolates and campaign contributions.

* Michigan -- Republican Governors Association ("Blown Away"): This commercial used Gov. Jennifer Granholm's (D) own words against her -- a piece of political jujitsu much appreciated by The Fix. It opens with Granholm saying, "This is about who gets it done." Images of empty factories is shown as newspaper clippings detailing the state's struggling economy scroll across the screen. The coup de grace, however, is in the ad's close where footage of Granholm's 2006 state of the state address is shown. In it, she promises, "In five years, you're going to be blown away."

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 6, 2006; 3:17 PM ET
Categories:  Governors , House , Senate  
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