With the 2014 election for the U.S. Senate over 17 months away, it is hard to believe the early bombardment of political ads.
Incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor, who has no announced opponent so far, already has had to respond to attack ads. There are three main ads out there, including Pryor’s response, so it seems a good idea to grade them on their effectiveness.
The first one is from a group called "Mayors Against Illegal Guns" — a group of big-city mayors, most notably New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. The group is pushing legislation to extend background checks to the purchase of firearms at gun shows.
The first attempt failed and Pryor did not vote for it. So, the group is hitting back with an ad that touches on a sensitive subject. The latest ad features the former Democratic Party of Arkansas CFO Angela Bradford-Barnes.
"When my dear, innocent friend was shot to death, I didn’t blame guns. I blamed a system that makes it so terribly easy for criminals or the dangerous mentally ill to buy guns. That’s why I was so disappointed when Mark Pryor voted against comprehensive background checks. On that vote, he let us down," she says in the ad.
Although the ad does not mention him by name, the friend is former state Sen. Bill Gwatney, who was serving as DPA chairman when he was murdered at party headquarters in 2008 by a mentally unstable man.
I give the ad an F if the intent was to influence Pryor to possibly vote with the mayors in the future. If it was meant as a grenade to inflict as much damage on Pryor from the left flank as possible, perhaps it deserves a B, although it seems like a lot of money for revenge.
Ad No. 2 from the Senate Conservatives Action Fund is hitting Pryor from the opposite direction. Their ad features several Arkansans repeating a message that "Pryor left us" because he "votes like a liberal" and "voted with Obama 95 percent of the time."
Although several in the ad are recognizable tea party activists that doubtfully were ever with Pryor, the ad is effective in advancing a basic but tough message for Pryor to counter — that he votes with the unpopular President Obama most of the time. If Republicans can equate a vote for Pryor with a vote for Obama, then he has no chance of getting re-elected. Therefore, this ad gets an A for effectiveness.
The two groups are spending over $700,000.
Ad No. 3 is the one from Pryor, in whch he sits in an office and speaks directly to the camera.
"The mayor of New York City is running ads against me because I opposed President Obama’s gun control legislation," Pryor says in the ad. "I’m committed to finding real solutions to prevent gun violence while protecting our Second Amendment rights. I approved this message because no one from New York or Washington tells me what to do. I listen to Arkansas."
The strongest part of Pryor’s ad is that he attempts to position himself on the side of Arkansas fighting against New York and Washington. He also refers to the background check legislation as "Obama gun control legislation" as he tries to separate himself from the unpopular president. This likely will be a message he seeks to advance in his campaign.
But the effectiveness of the ad stops there and problems begin. For starters, it is difficult to tell where Pryor stands on gun control. He seems to indicate he is open to gun control legislation but still favors protecting the Second Amendment. That is not an unreasonable moderate position but his message falls flat in a 30-second ad.
Simply responding to attack ads 17 months before an election and before anyone has announced plans to run against him is tantamount to Pryor admitting his re-election bid is in big trouble.
Overall, Pryor’s response ad gets a C. It advances a key message of his campaign, but also reminds voters of looming campaign problems. Also, his small ad buy will be buried beneath larger ad buys hitting him from the left and the right.
The number of ads promise only to pick up as this campaign unfolds. While Pryor does not have an opponent yet, many believe 4th District Congressman Tom Cotton will be the Republican choice to take him on.
The ads prove only one thing right now: It’s going to be a long campaign season.
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com.