Election 2006: The 10 worst political ads

The race card, the rape card and lots of tearful mea culpas.


Kerry Lauerman
November 8, 2006 1:45AM (UTC)

There was a lot of competition for the 10 worst political ads in 2006, so we cheated a little, with two ties, a few caveats, and a few ads that never made much of an impact off of the small, small screen (the Web). But we think we've hit the lowlights of a political season that many are calling the ugliest one in a long time.

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The 10 Worst

10. This was a Web-only ad. But we dont care. It made us grind our teeth and curse out loud. The sheer stupidity of it -- let's ape a famously cloying TV ad to sell our political philosophy! -- made us want to track down the "creatives" on this one and apply something else, directly to their foreheads.

9. Lord knows we loved "Good Night, and Good Luck," and think David Straitharn is an acting god. Still, this spot for Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand's congressional run is everything that's wrong with celebrity political ads. Straitharn did an uncanny impersonation of Edward R. Murrow in "GNAGL," full of righteous indignation at Sen. Joe McCarthy. Here, he reprises his Murrow role, and goes after Gillibrand's opponent, John Sweeney, like he was a '50s-style red-baiter. But in order for this ad to be effective, a viewer would need to be seriously confused about reality, or highly susceptible to cheesy Hollywood glitz.

8. In this first mea culpa ad, Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., apologizes "for not doing more" to thwart attempted page-turner Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., but does claim he "forced him to resign." It's a terrifically self-serving ad -- every near admission is followed by an attempt to blame it all on newspapers, colleagues, anyone else. And it looked particularly dubious in light of reports that he actually went to great lengths -- after knowing of the original, questionable Foley e-mails to pages -- to convince Foley to run for reelection this year. And Foley resigned after ABC broke the page story; there's no evidence Reynolds forced Foley to do anything.

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7. The Democrats were fond this election cycle of accusing Republicans of trying to "raid the Social Security trust fund." Only they didn't have a lot of evidence of that. Take this Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ad against Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, which claims that Chabot voted eight times for such a "raid." But it's bunk, according to FactCheck.org, the Annenberg Public Policy Center's nonpartisan watchdog, which saw the DCCC make this same charge in various races this year. They've also seen it used in years past, by both parties -- "ripe old hokum" that "has been exposed repeatedly over the years," but never seems to die.

6. This one's a tie. The first goes to Democrat Chris Carney for his cheesily manipulative attack on his opponent, Rep. Don Sherwood, R-Pa., who had been embroiled in a nasty suit from a former mistress in D.C., who accused Sherwood of, among other things, choking her. The ad features a scornful Republican and an Olan Mills portrait of his "disgusted" daughter -- and it's the very definition of stooping low.

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But Norwood's response is so pathetically bad, so lost and ashamed, how could he possibly have thought it would help? The way he reads through the cue cards with no attention to punctuation like a boy reading an apology note to his teacher for cheating on a test? Or his essential message: I had a mistress, but I never tried to strangle her, I swear! Honesty's all well and good, but sometimes the best option is probably to hide.

5. Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey's smear on her opponent, Deval Patrick, is so repulsive it actually appears to have hurt her. Good. In it, Healey accused Patrick of having "praised a convicted rapist" he defended, then pulled a quote of Healey talking out of context. Oh, and they got his name wrong, too, identifying him as "Patrick Deval."

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4. Pity Michael Arcuri, the subject of these two ads, which tied for fourth. First, he faced an ad (similar to the Healey smear of Patrick) from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which accused him of going easy on a man charged with raping a 13-year-old, and not indicting him fast enough. In fact, despite the victim's reluctance to cooperate with prosecutors, the accused was indicted a week later, and sent to prison for three years.

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Then, the NRCC tried an ad against Arcuri that accused him of calling a sex hotline from a hotel while on county business. But records show that the call lasted only a few seconds -- and that the number had the same last seven digits as the number for the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. The Arcuri campaign claimed it was an obvious mistake, and that a colleague had placed the call.

3. Paul R. Nelson's ad against Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., is genuinely jaw-dropping. Apparently, according to the Washington Post, Kind, "along with more than 200 of his fellow hedonists in the House, opposed an unsuccessful effort to stop the National Institutes of Health from pursuing peer-reviewed sex studies." Watch and marvel at how Nelson distorts that fact in this ad, and say a prayer for his soul.

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2. A spate of anti-Republican ads surfaced this summer by a group called VoteVets.org, like the one below against Sen. George Allen of Virginia. They're powerful, they're gripping, and, according to FactCheck.org, totally false. In this ad, Allen is accused of having "voted against giving our troops" the safest body armor. But according to FactCheck.org, "He did no such thing. The ad cites a vote on an appropriations amendment that had nothing whatever to do with body armor. The ad also claims troops were sent to Iraq with flak vests 'leftover from the Vietnam War,' another falsehood."

1. What's left to say about the RNC ad against Harold Ford Jr.? When asked whether he thought it was racist, RNC chairman Ken Mehlman said: "As someone who is extraordinarily sensitive to it, I don't believe that it was." Let's see you keep that attitude and try and hold down a real job, buddy.

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Kerry Lauerman

Kerry Lauerman is Salon's Editor in Chief. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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