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McFadden’s first attack ad lacks substance, but it could work

Judging it on its potential impact, two University of Minnesota political scientists who viewed the ad were both impressed.

U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden in a screen shot from his first commercial.

The first TV ad of the 2014 U.S Senate race is scheduled to start appearing today. It’s a 30-second Mike McFadden ad criticizing Sen. Al Franken for too much federal taxation, too much federal spending and a double attack on the Obamacare issue.

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McFadden also gave a fairly long interview to Chad Hartman on WCCO radio, after which Hartman joined the ranks of journalists frustrated with McFadden’s unwillingness to take positions on issues, inspiring Hartman to create a new verb.

First the ad, titled “Miss.” (You can watch it here.) Set on a hockey rink, we see puck after puck, about 10 in all, miss the net and eventually catch a glimpse of a hockey player, presumably representing Franken (although I’m pretty sure not played by him) falling over as he launches yet one more errant shot. The unseen narrator provides a negative review of Franken’s votes, which are characterized as “miss after miss after miss.”

Then halfway through, McFadden shows up on skates, making a credible looking stop and announcing that he approves this message because we need someone who will shoot straight in Washington. It ends with him taking a slapshot into the net. Here it is:

I have ridiculous willfully naive standards for political ads, which is to say that I expect them to be honest and substantive. On that basis this one is a flop. But the two political scientists I asked to give me their reactions were both impressed with the ad, judging it on its potential impact.

Larry Jacobs of the U of M’s Humphrey School said McFadden is “using the challenger playbook — framing the election as a referendum on things voters (especially GOP voters) intensely dislike. Of course, he’s silent on what he’d do on those issues. But that’s not what he needs politically, which is to distinguish himself as the most reliable repository for anti-Franken votes.” McFadden has shown no interest in differentiating himself from the other Republican candidates, even though he will likely face them in the August primary. Jacobs said this ad would help him in both August and November.

U of M political scientist Howard LaVine, who specializes in “political psychology,” also gave the ad a favorable review, calling the ad “novel,” “humorous,” able to criticize Franken “without making you feel bad about how terrible everything is.” Visually, he thought McFadden looked good.

LaVine declared that McFadden’s slap shot looked reasonably credible, and may be “cognitively priming” voters to believe that a guy who is competent at something they care about (hockey) might be competent at other things.

DFL mocks

In an email/press release to, the DFL mocked McFadden for the “straight shooter” theme of the ad, and brought McFadden’s latest public interview, the one on WCCO in which Hartman asked McFadden about four or five specific issues and didn’t get a clear statement of McFadden’s position on any of them. Regular Black Ink readers will recognize both the issue of McFadden’s long-running effort to avoid specific positions and, if you listen to the interview, you will see some familiar tap-dance performances on issues about which McFadden has been asked previously.

If you are inclined to listen for yourself, it’s available here, but McFadden doesn’t appear until minute 17 of this podcast, and Hartman doesn’t start pressing him for issue positions until about the 26:00 mark. The last four minutes include the first time I’ve heard McFadden asked whether he would sign the famous Grover Norquist pledge to reject any tax increases (to which he certainly didn’t give a yes or no answer, although he implied that the answer was yes).

Hartman’s parting comment, after McFadden had left, was: “The criticism that’s come his way, I don’t think it’s gonna end if he continues to non-answer questions.” (I haven’t previously seen “non-answer” used as a verb, but the language is a dynamic thing, y’know.)