Alex Sink and the art of the family commercial

With a hand from her dad, Democrat Alex Sink took the airwaves with her first TV ad Wednesday.

"When my daughter Alex first told me she was running for Congress, I tried to talk her out of it," says Kester Sink. "But she's stubborn."

It's a tried-and-true formula that campaigns have long deployed: Run a light-hearted commercial featuring family as a means of humanizing a candidate.

Sometimes, this kind of ad can be very effective.

Just ask New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D). De Blasio's first ad last year featuring his son was the most eye-catching commercial of the year. Not only did it include the element of surprise -- Dante de Blasio didn't reveal his identity until the end -- but it conveyed de Blasio's message that he was the candidate who would take the city furthest away from the policies of Michael Bloomberg. And it did so in a unique way.

Other times, the family ad can be a way of using humor to draw attention to a campaign looking for traction. Last year, Democratic congressional candidate Carl Sciortino "came out" to his tea party father as a Massachusetts liberal in a tongue-in-cheek spot that also conveyed a message about Sciortino's platform. He didn't win the race. But the spot won Sciortino a lot of attention.

In Wyoming, Republican Liz Cheney -- who has since ended her Senate campaign -- turned to her family in a commercial last year meant to address charges that she was a carpetbagger who moved back to Wyoming after a long absence out of political convenience. The ad begins with footage of one of her daughters horseback riding. Translation: We're no outsiders.

So, what to make of Sink's ad? It's probably not going to go viral like de Blasio's, but it casts her as a bipartisan problem-solver, which makes sense in Florida's centrist 13th district, where Sink is running in a special election campaign. She also mentions Social Security, which is a big deal in the area, considering that the district's population is older than most.  And the ad does it all with a touch of humor, thanks to the banter between Sink and her father.

Sink's campaign is spending at least $311,000 to air the ad over  the next 10 days, according to a person familiar with the buy. That's a substantial investment of resources.

It's safe to say this isn't the last time this cycle we'll see a candidate turn to their family in a TV commercial.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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