Elections 2006: The 10 best political ads

Early Lamont, later Lieberman and one smart Fox.


Kerry Lauerman
November 7, 2006 7:45PM (UTC)

In compiling our "Best" and "Worst" lists of political ads, we weighed two important factors: overall quality and impact. Because of the latter factor, some genuinely appalling ads -- and a few we sort of liked -- never came under consideration because they just won't really matter that much today, when a glorious season of race-baiting, sexual slurs, tearful mea culpas and all-purpose smears come to their calamitously democratic conclusion.

Later today, we'll share the 10 worst ads of the campaign. But for now, here are the ones we're calling the best, which are mostly from Democrats, who surely had the better issues to work with. But there were still a few surprises ...

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The 10 Best

10. To be totally honest, we found that early Ned Lamont ad, co-starring a bubbly Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, kind of creepy if you had no idea who the Daily Kos creator was. But it was undeniably effective, helping generate a ton of publicity and galvanizing a national grass-roots effort to oust Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. And it worked! ... in the primaries. Lamont's wildly clever ad campaign -- overseen by maverick Bill Hillsman (you can view all 33 spots here) -- might have worked against him after a while. They showcased his terrific sense of humor and acting abilities, but did they tell Connecticut voters what he was for? Still, we enjoyed them immensely. This, one of his most recent, is also one of his best.

9. As negative ads go, this one by Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson, in which children cheerfully hurl typical campaign slurs at Democratic candidate Mike Beebe, is pretty good. It's an ironic ploy that's been used in TV ads before, but we still thought it was pretty effective in this context -- the kids are really great. (But it doesn't seem to have helped much; Beebe is expected to win on Tuesday.)

8. We can't believe we're giving Joe Lieberman credit for a good ad, since he's also responsible for such unbelievably amateurish spots. But after all Lamont's smart spoofs, the sharp attacks by Gen. Wesley Clark and Paul Newman, and the viral videos, it still wasn't clear to Connecticut voters what else Lamont stood for, except that he was against the war in Iraq. This classic attack ad, spotlighting "real" people voicing concerns about Lamont, does nothing special. But when the timing is right, what's more effective?

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7. It's easy to run feel-good ads when you're on your way to a blowout. Still, Eliot Spitzer's ads, which you could call melting-pot nostalgia, caused us to mist up more than once -- no small accomplishment.

6. If you're going to viciously attack your opponent, there's probably no better way to do it than through the words of your opponent's own party members. That's what Democrat Larry Grant did to Republican Bill Sali in this very nasty Idaho congressional race. He had us at "fricking."

5.There were plenty of ways that Democratic candidates tried to tie their opponents to George W. Bush. But morphing your opponent's face into Bush's, as Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm did to Amway billionaire Dick DeVos? That's evil-genius good.

4. David Zucker bombed in his attempt to become the GOP's ad hatchet man, with one ludicrous ad "censored" by the GOP, and this one relegated to Webdom. Still, while the former ad was genuinely stupid and misogynist, this one, we thought, was genuinely sort of funny and extremely well done.

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3. Big ole Jon Tester's folksy ads, starring Tester's farm, his dog, popular Gov. Brian Scwheitzer and Schweitzer's dog, sold a bighearted vision of blue sky America. If he loses to sleepy Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., today, someone should recruit him to promote Montana tourism.

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2. This great ad, which uses the Squirrel Nut Zippers' "Have You Had Enough?" and a charming Rickie Lee Jones vocal, has been recut and reused in about 18 Democratic races across the country (here, in John Laesch's unlikely effort against House Speaker Dennis Hastert). It's catchy retro stylings made voting against the GOP House seem not only fun but incredibly cool.

1. This ad has everything: A heart-wrenching appearance by a beloved American actor, and a clarity -- for better or worse -- on a complicated issue that a lot of people had avoided thinking too deeply about. It also prompted a response that backfired -- a ludicrous quasi-celebrity response ad, and an insanely cruel retort by Rush Limbaugh that surely caused a lot of people to reconsider their flip thoughts on embryonic stem cell research. Whether any of the candidates Fox stumped for wins or not, he has advanced an issue better than anyone else in this campaign.

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Kerry Lauerman

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

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