An earlier version of this story said that Dale Peterson, a candidate for state office in Alabama, said he had served in the Marines in Vietnam. He said in his ad and on his Web site that he served during the Vietnam War, but he does not say he served in the war. This version has been corrected.
Alabama candidate Dale Peterson aims to wound with his straight-shooting ad
Can he come from nowhere to win, friends and neighbors? Can the butt-kicking legend of Dale Peterson actually come true?
The rifle-toting, tough-talking star of what many consider, either in awe or terror, to be the ultimate American political ad ever now faces the moment of truth in his quest for the once-obscure office of Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries. On Tuesday, Peterson, a 64-year-old political neophyte, must shake off the stardust won by his instant-icon Internet ad during the past two weeks and win the Republican primary.
But there are no reliable statewide polls to suggest the standing of any of the three candidates for the office, and it's anybody's guess whether Peterson and his white cowboy hat will win in a landslide or be written off as a laughingstock.
"I want to run some crooks off and get this state turned around, big guy," he said in a phone interview last week, sounding a lot friendlier than he does in his 71-second campaign spot, now airing on television. "It's not about me. It's about the people of Alabama and the people of this country."
He also noted his approach to leadership: "run point, and you just back me up."
That sort of storm-the-gunners-nest jargon in pursuit of what is not exactly a high-profile job is part of what has led to his ad getting more than 1.7 million hits on YouTube and becoming the instant darling of conservatives everywhere. Sure, Tim James, the Republican candidate for governor, has a spot about making the state's test for a driver's license be written in only English that's generated buzz, but it pales next to Peterson's. The irony-free ad is so over-the-top -- bursting with Peterson's air of righteous indignation, exasperation and I'm-ready-to-kick-your-tail attitude -- that it demands repeat views.
An opening shot framing Marine dog tags and a scroll of the U.S. Constitution dissolves into Peterson riding a horse into the frame, wearing sunglasses and a cowboy hat. The camera jump-cuts every few seconds. Theme music, sounding like it might be from a new episode of "The Rifleman," swells. Peterson doesn't so much address the camera as he barks at it.
He says he's been a Marine, cop, farmer and businessman, then snaps "So listen up!"
He says the agriculture commissioner oversees $5 billion in annual business. "Bet you didn't know that!" he says, as the camera jolts in for a close-up. "You know why? Thugs and criminals!" If they can keep people in the dark, "they can do whatever they want with all that money -- and they don't give a rip about Alabama!"
He says there are "illegals bussed in by the thousands" while his opponents are stealing his yard signs "in the dark of night." He says one competitor, Dorman Grace, brags about taking "illegal money" on his Facebook page.
"Who on earth would support such a dummy? And why? We're Republicans! We should be better than that!"
He then whips out his .30-30 Winchester rifle, saying, "I'm Dale Peterson. I'll take names and take no prisoners!"