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The 10 best TV ads of the 2010 primaries

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

It's no secret that we here at the Fix are BIG fans of campaign ads.

Despite the rise of the Internet -- it's a series of tubes -- most voters still get their information about a race from television commercials and, as a result, campaigns spend massive amounts of money and time crafting each 30 or 60 second ad.

Because of the volatile electoral atmosphere that has pervaded in American politics this year, campaign ad makers have been forced to be creative -- making commercials that stand out from the cookie cutter commercials that might have been enough to win races in past elections.

The results have been nothing short of amazing with scads of terrific ads -- both negative and positive. Below, we break down our 10 favorite ads from the 2010 primary season that was. (And, yes, we will have our 10 best -- and worst -- general election ads sometime shortly after Nov. 2.)

Our criteria: the ad had to run on television -- sorry Dale Peterson! -- and it had to have a demonstrable impact on the ultimate outcome of the race.

What did we miss? The comments section awaits.

* Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) -- "J.D. Huckster":

An infomercial hasn't been used this effectively in a negative ad since Sen. Max Baucus (D) savaged state Sen. Mike Taylor (R) back in 2002. McCain took footage of Hayworth advocating for a company that promised free grant money from the government. The commercial, which was produced by Fred Davis, ended with this tagline: "J.D. Hayworth...pork barrel spender, lobbyist, huckster." Ouch. McCain won convincingly.

* Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) -- "What's Right":

This ad, which was created by Murphy Putnam and launched during Lincoln's Democratic runoff fight against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, set the tone for her come-from-behind victory. The message was clear: 'You sent a message about Washington in the primary. Message received. Now, vote for the person you trust most.' Voters did, and she beat the odds in June.

* Colorado Freedom Fund (Democratic Governors Association) -- "Politician":

Former Rep. Scott McInnis (R) should get a writing credit for all-but-writing the ad that brought him down in the Colorado GOP governor's race. His plagiarism scandal derailed what would otherwise have been a pretty comfortable victory. The real credit for this ad, though, goes to ad-maker Doc Sweitzer at the Campaign Group and the Democratic Governors Association, which through a third party group inserted itself into the Republican primary in the name of taking McInnis down and handing the nomination to another flawed candidate in Dan Maes. The ad is basic but it worked, and now the Democrats are heavily favored to hold this seat in a tough year in Colorado.

* Florida Senate candidate Kendrick Meek (D) -- "He's the Man":

Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek had fallen behind billionaire investor Jeff Greene in the Florida primary when his campaign unleashed this doozy -- that put his opponent's, um, unorthodox background center stage. The ad, produced by Murphy Putnam, was playful but cutting -- using Greene's own statements about his background against him. "Betting on suffering does matter," appears on screen at the end of this commercial, a tagline summed up the messaging for Meek as he marched to a solid victory over Greene on Aug. 24.

* Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio (R) -- "Yes":

The bottom had already begun to fall out of Gov. Charlie Crist's Senate GOP primary campaign by the time former state House Speaker Marco Rubio put this 15-second ad on the air in late March. The commercial, created by Heath Thompson and Todd Harris of Scott Howell & Co., very effectively reminded Republican voters of Crist's apostasy on the economic stimulus package -- showing an extended image of the governor and President Obama in near-embrace. Roughly a month later, Crist was out of the Republican primary -- switching parties to run as an independent.

* Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway (D) -- "Truer Man":

The testimonial ad is a popular vehicle for building up your candidate's favorable rating, and Conway's ad in the Kentucky Democratic Senate primary is one of the best of the cycle. The ad, created by Mandy Grunwald, features a couple whose daughter committed suicide after being terrorized on the Internet, and praises the state Attorney General's work to fight Internet crime. Conway started the Democratic primary race behind -- thanks in large part to the fact he was less well known than Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo. The ad was launched March 18, right between two SurveyUSA polls showing Conway turning an 18-point deficit into a race that was within the margin of error.

* Michigan gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder (R) -- "One Tough Nerd":

In a cycle that places an emphasis on outsiders, Snyder's Michigan GOP governor campaign did it better than just about everyone else. Running against a congressman, a state attorney general and a sheriff, Snyder set himself apart by embracing his inner nerd. The ad, doe by Fred Davis, received plaudits and plenty of earned media, vaulting Snyder from also-ran into the thick of things in the crowded primary. Sure, Snyder's millions in self-funding helped, but as we've found with other self-funders across the country, you need a message too. He had one, he won easily, and now he's primed to become Governor Snyder.

* Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak -- "The Switch":

The credit for this absolutely devastating negative ad -- our favorite of the cycle so far -- goes to media consultant J.J. Balaban of the Campaign Group. But it might as well go to Sestak's opponent, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.). Specter handed this ad to Sestak on a silver platter. While announcing his party switch last year, Specter suggested that he was doing it for political purposes. Still, the ad successfully juxtaposed a clip of Specter saying the switch would "allow me to get re-elected" (quote of the year!) with President Bush's 2004 endorsement of Specter and a picture of Specter shaking hands former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Ask any political operative about the Pennsylvania primary campaign and the first thing they will cite is that ad.

* South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley -- "Vision":

Subtlety is important in ads, and perhaps no ad got it better this primary season than South Carolina GOP governor candidate Nikki Haley. Following unsubstantiated allegations from a blogger that he and Haley engaged in an affair, Haley immediately went up with an ad featuring her family and her husband. It begins, "I've seen the dark side of our state's politics," and closes with the candidate introducing her husband. The ad was effective without being preachy or alluding directly to the controversy. Haley won the primary easily against three more-established male politicians and is a strong favorite to win next month too.

* Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker -- "Saturn":

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker (R) ran for and won the gubernatorial primary against former Rep. Mark Neumann (R) by emphasizing his average Joe-ness. No ad better captured that "voice of the people" sensibility than this one where Walker is driving around the state in his beat-up 1998 Saturn. (The obvious homage to the Scott Brown truck ad also gets points.) Walker gets extra points for hiring a local consultant -- Hales Corners, Wisconsin-based Nonbox -- to do the ads.

By Chris Cillizza  | October 4, 2010; 11:46 AM ET
Categories:  Governors, House, Senate  
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