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Ad Wars: McCain ACORN Assault - Obama Must Fill In The Blanks

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Political communications consultant Mike Hughes, special to OffTheBus, deconstructs the latest campaign ads, frame by frame.

McCain launched a creative and timely web ad recently, attacking Obama for his ties to ACORN, a voter registration organization that is currently under investigation in eight states for fraud. After analyzing the ad's features in more detail, we can see how its use of psychedelic imagery, crime-file cinematography and daunting evidence delivers a persuasive case against Obama. The typically nimble Obama campaign has yet to release a counter-attack to the Acorn charges. Obama's new ad continues to focus on the theme that McCain would rather smear Obama than talk about the economy while addressing McCain's attacks on Obama's supposed seedy connections. Yet Obama's ad ultimately falls short because it doesn't respond to McCain's charges head-on.

McCain "Acorn" Ad (October 10, 2008)

McCain's 90-second spot begins with what looks like crime-file footage as the announcer says "Who is the real Barack Obama?" echoing the battle cry on the campaign trail from McCain and Palin. The announcer's deep ominous voice reminds me of a documentary about a serial killer.


Psychedelic strobes blink in the background throughout the video, giving it a 60's radical undertone. The image of a young Obama with an afro, coupled with the acid trip colors is an attempt by the McCain campaign to subtlety use race to frighten voters. Although we are entering a post-racial society, considering we are on the verge of electing our first black President, Americans do not want a Black Panther running the country. McCain also hopes to exploit underlying concerns that might have been implanted from the Jeremiah Wright controversy.

The commercial then begins to tie Obama to Acorn: "After college, he moved to Chicago. Became a community organizer. There, Obama met Madeleine Talbot, part of the Chicago branch of ACORN. He was so impressive that he was asked to train the ACORN staff."


The ad goes on to say that ACORN bullied banks to give the same types of loans that caused the financial crisis. This sets the table for indicting images from a newscast of police raiding ACORN offices as a reporter's voice is heard saying "There are at least 11 investigations across the country involving thousands of potentially fraudulent ACORN forms."


The McCain camp mocks the Obama camp for attempting to distance its candidate from ACORN, by displaying these damaging facts that the Obama campaign paid ACORN $800,000 to register voters.


The commercial ends with words flashing across the screen: "Bad Judgment. Blind Ambition." McCain's ultimate objective here is to instill apprehension that Obama is too risky to hold the most powerful position in the world.

Obama's "Lose" Ad (October 10, 2008)


Obama's 30-second national cable ad continues to focus on McCain's mistake in saying he can't focus on the economy or he'll lose, and uses an irrefutable quote from the McCain campaign to back up this remark. The ad goes on to attack McCain for focusing on attack ads while Americans lose their jobs and savings.


In response to McCain's attack regarding Obama's relationship with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, this screenshot refutes McCain's statement that Obama launched his first campaign from Ayers's living room. This response seems somewhat weak, like a technicality, and it does not allay overall concerns about Obama's relationship with Ayers.


Obama than cleverly uses McCain's own words against him to respond to an attack about Obama's ties to allegedly corrupt political boss, William Daley. We can see that the commercial also uses an actual screenshot from a McCain ad. It catches McCain in a disingenuous strategy considering he himself said that former Commerce Secretary Bill Daley did "great work."


A picture is worth a thousand words. There is nothing more damning than a photo with the person one is condemning. The commercial ends with Obama's consistent theme as of late -- "With no plan to fix our economy, smears are all McCain has left."

The McCain ad's combination of strong visuals and factual evidence condemning Obama will insert doubt into the mind of any voter. After viewing this commercial, the viewer is left with the impression of a young radical who is not just connected to a fraudulent organization, but helped teach them and fund them to get out the vote. Viewers will wonder how Obama could possibly explain away these blatant connections. Obama's ad is simple, yet clearly spells out the message, once again, that McCain believes his only chance of winning is to smear Obama because McCain is weak on the economy. Yet, Obama presents a flimsy argument against the Ayers attack, not even mentioning his name. If anything, it makes viewer wonder about it even more. Obama needs to come out with a compelling ad explaining the Ayers connection in more detail, as well as the new ACORN problem, because the last thing the Obama camp wants is for voters to fill in the blanks themselves.