Political deja vu: Michelle Nunn takes an ad from the anti-Romney playbook

August 19

If you watch Michelle Nunn's new ad for her Georgia Senate race, something about it will likely seem familiar to you. There's a sense of deja vu, almost, in this story of the wealthy Republican that profited from a business closure in rural America. The interview style. The moody music.

Let us help you. You have seen this before -- or, at least, a version of it. In 2012, a worker told the story of how he built a stage for his bosses to stand on while they fired everyone at his plant. The Republican being decried in that ad was Mitt Romney.

It's a formula -- an effective one -- engineered by the political consulting firm Shorr Johnson Magnus in Philadelphia. Shorr Johnson Magnus developed a series of ads like these for the Democratic PAC Priorities USA to use against Mitt Romney -- none quite as powerful as the one above, "Stage." When Nunn decided to run for the Senate, she hired the firm to do her spots.

Before the Republican primary determined her general election opponent, Shorr created an unremarkable ad featuring Nunn's father, former Sen. Sam Nunn. Once businessman David Perdue won the Republican nomination, though, Shorr and Nunn must have been nearly giddy at the opportunity to replay the 2012 script. The theme is still potent. In 2012, the middle class saw Romney's policies as largely benefitting the wealthy. In exit polls, a majority said that Romney's policies would benefit the rich, and 87 percent of those who said so voted against him. A poll taken earlier this year by CNN/ORC found that 69 percent of the country still sees the Republican party as favoring the rich.

So, while the ads that Shorr has produced along these lines aren't all focused on class tension, they do follow that theme. As do the ads, to a second.

The establishing shot

The ads often feature establishing shots showing dilapidated towns in winter, small houses, closed factories. Hard times in blue-collar America.

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The testimonials

All of the Shorr ads are first person. Testimonial from the blue collar inhabitants of those blue collar towns. Which is not meant in any way to suggest that the speakers are insincere or uncompelling. Where Shorr shines is at presenting the witnesses in a very sympathetic way.

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The expository overlay

As the testimony continues, overlays offer more information about the situation being described.

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Sometimes, they are combined with more establishing shots.

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The bad guys

The focal point of the ad is shown.

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The headlines

To bolster the claims of the people being interviewed, newspaper headlines or citations are displayed to add credibility.

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In the new Nunn ad, Perdue is shown only in a mock-up of what appears to be a press release -- a bit off of the Shorr script.

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The emotional close

In the most powerful spots, including the new Nunn ad, the last line is the shiv, the emotional punch to drive home the point.

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"It was like building my own coffin, and it just made me sick."
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"He made ... he made me sick."

If you were asked to ID which of those ads was against Romney and which was against Perdue, you couldn't. (There is also one ad promoting Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) that's mixed in.)

No single ad wins or loses a campaign. But "Stage" was certainly one of the most powerful and memorable spots of the 2012 campaign. In case the above display doesn't make it clear, Nunn has all of the tools at her disposal to replicate it.

Practically to a word.

Links to the original ads: "Kannapolis," "Stage," "Loris and Ampad," "Ryan," and "Scrap Steel."  This post has been corrected with the proper spelling of Shorr's name.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He previously wrote for The Wire, the news blog of The Atlantic magazine. He has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily, and the Huffington Post. Philip is based in New York City.
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