This morning President Obama's campaign launched an unorthodox two-minute ad in virtually every swing state left on the electoral map -- New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Nevada and Colorado -- a gambit that offers a telling window into the campaign's strategy with the first debate just six days off and election day now only 40 days away.
So, what does the ad tell us exactly? We break that down below. But first, let's watch it.
And now for what it means/why they did it.
* Why now?: As NBC's invaluable "First Read" notes this morning, early voting -- either absentee or in-person -- has already begun in 30 states including the battlegrounds of Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Virginia. Given the massive growth in early vote across the country, the Obama team (rightly) believes that they need to reach voters with their last, best message starting now. No reason to leave this ad for the final week of the campaign. Our guess? They cut it down to a 30-second spot and run it in swing states in the last few days before Nov. 6.
* Why 2 minutes?: In a world of 30-second ads, a two-minute campaign commercial is an eternity. And, that's kind of the point. The Obama team knows that if you live in a swing state you have been absolutely snowed under with TV ads and that it's next to impossible to differentiate one from the other. A two-minute ad, almost by definition, looks different than all of the other ads deluging the swing state airwaves -- and standing out (or at least getting people not to fast forward through the ad) is the name of the game at this point.
* Why Obama?: There's never been much doubt in the Obama world that the president is the best messenger to deliver the closing case for his candidacy. (You could make an argument that Bill Clinton is at least as good a closer for Obama but, well, we already did that.) Obama's gifts as a communicator -- whether or not you agree with him on the issues -- are significant and putting him directly to the camera is a sign of the confidence the campaign has in his ability to sell a winning message in the final days of the race.
* What's the message?: It's a two-minute long ad so there's plenty to choose from -- but one line jumped out to us. "When I took office we were losing nearly 800,000 jobs a month and were mired in Iraq," says Obama early on in the ad. "Today I believe that as a nation we are moving forward again. But we have much more to do to get folks back to work and make the middle class secure again." That's the Obama campaign message in three sentences. Things were bad -- domestically and internationally -- when I took over. I did what I could to make them (slightly) better. But I know we're not there yet. If he can get undecided voters to buy that basic construct, he will win.
* Why the specifics?: Most of the ad is dedicated to going through Obama's four-point plan to move the country forward -- including creating one million new manufacturing jobs, cutting oil imports in half and adding 100,000 new math and science teachers. The point is to drive a contrast between Obama's specific, positive plans about the next right steps for the country and what the president's campaign believes is a Romney campaign that is afraid to offer any detailed explanation of what he would do in office. (Republicans will note that while Obama gets specific in his ad, he doesn't explain the "how" of accomplishing the various things he proposes.)