Davis is very good at making memorable and meme-able political ads. A nephew of Oklahoma senator Jim Inhofe, he entered political messaging when his uncle first ran for his upper chamber seat. Davis made a big impact with a 1994 campaign ad that depicted convicts wearing pink ballerina tutus. More recent election cycle Davis images include “demon sheep” for Carly Fiorina, and “not a witch” for Christine O’Donnell.
In 2008 he was GOP presidential nominee John McCain’s chief media strategist.
Now, in a leaked 54-page proposal, comes what the New York Times called “a rare, detailed look at the birth of the sort of political sneak attack that has traditionally been hatched in the shadows.” Davis put together a story board prepared for Ameritrade founder and wealthy conservative Joe Ricketts, a major contributor to the super-PAC Ending Spending Action Fund. Using the slogan “character matters,” the Davis plan lays out a negative push against President Obama.
The ad was pitched to Ricketts, who also owns the Chicago Cubs, but Davis’s principal beneficiary is first and foremost Fred Davis. His company, Strategic Perception Inc., though well-staffed, is nevertheless a one-man show in terms of whose imprimatur is on the work.
(For each campaign project, Davis selects a “Recommended Team of Pirates” to fill out the crew.)
Although Davis hopes Romney will be the next candidate to benefit from his devilish touch, the strategist was on Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign payroll until the rival candidate dropped out in January.
Davis, who is more wedded to his own ideas than to any client’s, prepared the proposal with a campaign ad storyboard repurposed from a concept from the 2008 campaign he had worked up for McCain. It focuses on the hate speech of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. McCain rejected the ad.
In a sample of the sort of loyalty future clients can expect, the new proposal, speaking of McCain’s refusal, calls Davis’s former client “a crusty old politician who often seemed confused, burdened with a campaign just as confused.”
Within hours after the article about the Davis proposal appeared on the New York Times front page Thursday, Romney’s campaign team refuted the attack plan against President Obama’s character. “Unlike the Obama campaign, Gov. Romney is running a campaign based on jobs and the economy, and we encourage everyone else to do the same.” Ricketts soon followed suit.
As for Davis, it’s back to the drawing board.
Bonnie Goldstein is on Twitter @KickedByAnAngel