Huffpost Politics
Sam Stein Headshot

The Most Influential Voices In The Campaign

Posted: Updated:

Next to the candidate, the candidate's families and their surrogates, these individuals may have the most influential voices in this presidential campaign.

They are not pundits, strategists or heads of third party organizations.

They are narrators for political advertisements. Their tones are well-known to political observers and deluged swing state voters. And in an election cycle that has witnessed millions of dollars spent on media buys, they have more power than ever before to affect votes.

Voiceover artists are, themselves, political. The Huffington Post spoke with two of them -- one Republican, the other Democrat. Both were utterly committed to their parties and candidates, even offering impromptu advice on what type of advertisements they wish the campaign they supported would run.

"We did an ad [recently] that was straightforward and hard hitting," said Democrat Melissa Leebaert, an Emmy winner whose speaking style is gentle, deliberate and clear. "And I think that is important for Obama to be that way when he is getting essentially the past week or two, the Republicans are behaving in a less than admirable fashion; Palin and McCain and the things that they are saying and the kind of negative passions that they are raising among their voters. So I think that, that was very exciting."

Of course an artist's voice is what draws clients in, not his or her politics.

"Voiceovers go where the jobs are," explained Bob Jump, a conservative voice artist who worked on behalf of Ron Paul's primary campaign. "For some reason, the Republicans liked my voice better! Maybe I sound a little more mature, wiser -- like I've been around the block and know a little more than the average guy! Anyway, the Republicans, probably 2 to 1, were drawn to that folksy, warm timbre of my voice -- so that's who I work for during political season!"

Like everyone else working for or around this campaign, voiceover artists have been consumed by the process. Over the past two months, dozens of advertisements have been created on behalf of the campaigns and political committees, and hundreds more for congressional candidates, special interest groups and independent organizations.

As such, a typical day at work is unpredictable and challenging. Oftentimes jobs are predicated on demand. And with candidates like Barack Obama raising copious amounts of cash -- and spending record amounts of that loot on ad buys -- that demand has been relentless. Leebaert, who has done a whole host of radio ads for the Senator on topics ranging from prescription drugs to stem cell research (usually, she noted, playing the role of "some mom or some 30-year old single person") said that she might be contracted out for anywhere between two or ten ads a day.

Listen to Leebaert:

There are limits to what voiceover artists will do. Leebaert said she once turned down an offer from an anti-abortion group. Jump, however, noted that his job is primarily "to sell the people and their ideas." He said of his repertoire, "I do ... warm, friendly reassuring voice for hospitals, mortuaries, insurance companies and banks! Rough, tough, cowboy voice for trucks, hunting gear and heavy equipment! Whimsical, silly for toys and amusement parks! I can do just about any voice the client requests, but my foreign accents are terrible."

Each had spots that they deemed their finest. For Jump, that honor went to two ads: one touting Mike Pence's reelection to his house seat in Indiana and one he completed this cycle for the outside group Let Freedom Ring, titled "Both Ways Barack."

"People are saying that Sen. Obama's recent changes of position have made him a flip flopper; he's not," went the script. "Flip Floppers only hold one position at a time. Sen. Obama is different. He holds two positions at the same time."

Explained Jump: "I used a much different voice than ever before to add the right amount of sarcasm and wit. It worked! The Republicans loved it and the Democrats hated it."

As for Leebaert, her proudest moment would be almost unrecognizable in this current negative-goes campaign.

"There was this ad about pollution and somebody was allowing dumping," she recalled. "And it was a TV ad and it was just very, very clever, because the attack line was "bad for fish, bad for Indiana."