Jennifer Vanasco is a News Editor at WNYC where she edits the newscast for air and web and is the newsroom's theater critic.
A day after the release of the newest political ad from Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry, media watchers are calling it a “viral video fail” and comedians are writing parodies.
The ad, “Strong,” shows a rugged-looking Perry wearing a barn jacket in a fall landscape. He says, “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian. But you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.
“As president, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion," he says. "And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage. Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.”
The ad, which is appearing on Iowa broadcast and cable stations as well as online is an appeal to the conservative and religious Iowans who last year voted out three Iowa Supreme Court justices who, along with their colleagues, unanimously legalized same-sex marriage.
It may also be a “perhaps clumsy” play to be the next Mike Huckabee, said Dr. Michael W. Wagner, whose specialty at the University of Nebraska is political communication and elections. “Mike Huckabee performed very well with evangelical Christian voters in Iowa in 2008; these voters have not lined up behind Romney or Gingrich, so they are up for grabs and potentially decisive.”
Perry seemed to confirm this when defending the ad on Fox News today, saying, “Our First Amendment right is freedom of religion not freedom from religion, and what the left is trying to do is force all of us people of faith to say you can’t be involved in the public arena.”
But most pundits agree that the ad has failed spectacularly.
The Atlantic called the ad a “viral video fail,” noting that YouTube viewers were coming out against it in large numbers. By mid-day Thursday, the original spot had earned over 187,000 dislikes – and only about 4,000 likes.
Comedians piled on – a Tumblr called “Rick Perry’s Unpopular Opinions” shows repeating video snippets of Perry from the ad next to quotes of questionable opinions, like, “The Star Wars prequels are better than the originals” and “The Beatles are a horrible band.” Second City’s Andy Cobb made a parody video that solemnly announces, “Rick Perry may believe in God – but I’ve seen his poll numbers, and God doesn’t believe in Rick Perry.”
In fact, those poll numbers may have been what led to the ad in the first place.
“Just the fact that he made the ad shows that his campaign is in trouble, he’s flailing around,” said Dr. Paul Levinson, professor of communications and media studies at New York’s Fordham University. “Going to extremes is what candidates do when they don’t have traction. It won’t have much of an effect, because the truth is, America is correctly focused on the economy. Gay rights, faith and prayer in schools are old and tired social issues – they may have been a deciding factor four years ago, but they’re not now.”
Even Dana Perino, former White House Press Secretary for President George W. Bush and current Fox commentator, was surprised by the ad’s negative tone.
“For a lot of Republicans, [the gays in the military] issue has been put to bed, we have moved on. . . . You know how on American Idol when someone hits an off key? That’s what I felt Perry’s ad was.”
Perino noted that Iowans are more interested in the economy than social issues, even though social issues have traditionally won the caucus there. A New York Times/CBS poll from Dec. 5 showed that 40 percent of Iowa GOP caucusgoers said that the economy and jobs would be the deciding factor when choosing a candidate and 23 percent said the federal budget. Only 9 percent named social issues.
Would the ad have been more effective had it run only on-air in Iowa and not been posted to the web? Debra J. Caruso, who owns the Washington, D.C. public relations firm DJC Communications, said it wouldn’t have mattered.
“Someone would have heard it and posted it,” she said.