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Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009 09:20 am

McKenna’s latest “hair” ad is clever, but false

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Four years ago during the last Republican gubernatorial primary, dairy magnate Jim Oberweis was sharply and widely criticized for running false newspaper headlines in his TV ads. Now, it’s happening again with a different wealthy gubernatorial hopeful.

Republican Andy McKenna’s latest TV ad stays with his original theme of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s hair. The spot begins the same as his first ad, with a visual of a Blagojevich-like wig on top of the Statehouse and a Blagojevich look-alike walking into the shot. McKenna’s first TV ad placed the wig on several previous governors, including George Ryan and Dan Walker, as well as on a baby. The hair is supposed to be a metaphor for the state’s history of corruption.

The McKenna ad’s announcer then claims the state faces an $11 billion deficit while “Governor Quinn hides the truth.” The accompanying visual is the phrase: “Quinn hides the truth,” and a reference to a Nov. 18 Chicago Tribune article.

Trouble is, the Tribune published no such article with that headline. The article itself is about a contentious public debate between Gov. Quinn and his Democratic primary rival Dan Hynes, but nowhere in the article does Hynes accuse Quinn of “hiding” anything.
The McKenna campaign claims the reference is to the governor’s statement that day that his administration has had many “missions accomplished” during his first year in office. The Tribune reporters questioned the political smarts of parroting one of former President George W. Bush’s more infamous quotes, but the McKenna people say Quinn’s line “hides the truth” about what’s really happening in Illinois.

Obviously, that’s more than a little bit of a stretch.

It’s not like Quinn has hidden the grim realities about the state’s crippling budget deficit or the need for a tax hike. Considering that most Illinois politicians want to sweep this budget and tax problem under the rug until after the election, Quinn’s been downright honest about the whole thing.

If anything, it’s people like McKenna who are “hiding the truth.” McKenna and the rest of the Republican candidates know full well that there’s no way to balance the state budget with cuts alone. The deficit is almost half of the budget, for crying out loud.

Here’s the “truth.” Most of the budget is education and health care. So unless you want to cut most of the $8 billion in state K-12 spending (which would just necessitate insanely high local property taxes) and kick tens and tens of thousands of children and poor people off of Medicaid, dump the mentally ill into the streets, and then quit doing the other things that the state does, like patrol the highways, you can forget about balancing the budget. Yet, to hear McKenna and the other GOP candidates talk, all that’s really required is a nip here and a tuck there. Ridiculous.

Anyway, back to McKenna’s TV ad. You’d think he’d be more cautious about making up headlines, but he’s using an out-of-state media consultant who probably doesn’t know about the 2006 Oberweis fake headline blowup.

A Washington Post columnist claimed last week that McKenna’s “hair” ads are the best he’s seen this year, but the ads have yet to move McKenna past his rivals — probably because, while visually striking, it’s tough for most viewers to remember that the ad is for candidate McKenna. The spots have attracted plenty of media attention, however, and have probably been the subject of quite a few water cooler discussions.

McKenna is likely to stick with this “hair” visual throughout the primary, so people may eventually associate his name with the hair spot, although that may not work all that well, either. McKenna, for one, has a nice head of hair himself. And associating such a strong negative image so closely with a candidate could be dangerous. McKenna could become the “hair guy,” and since “the hair” is portrayed as such a strong negative, that’s a risky proposition with low-information voters.

It’s also unclear how this negative ad will fare as we move into the holiday advertising season. Usually, candidates try to avoid negativity starting around Thanksgiving because viewers can be easily turned off by a negative tone during the holiday season.

False and counterproductive. But other than that, it’s a good ad.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.

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