It's not easy being a Democrat in West Virginia these days. President Obama is deeply unpopular in the state -- thanks, at least in part, to his recent push to cut emissions at coal plants. Natalie Tennant, the party's longshot nominee for the state's open Senate seat knows it-- and in her first ad of the campaign she is doing everything she can to make clear she and Obama aren't too friendly.
"Where do they think their electricity comes from?," Tennant asks at the start of the ad as a picture of the White House is shown on screen. "You and I know it's our hard working West Virginia coal miners that power America." She closes the ad by insisting "I'll make sure President Obama gets the message" as she pulls a switch at a coal plant that leads to the lights in the White House going off(!).
Wowza. Message received -- or so Tennant hopes.
What's she doing with this ad is a not-so-subtle attempt to channel the successful "I'm not Obama" campaign run by West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) -- who Tennant name-checks in the ad -- during his 2012 race. In that campaign, Manchin famously ran an ad in which he shot a hole, literally, in the "cap and trade bill." (The ad is called, perfectly, "Dead Aim".)
That ad helped Manchin fight off the "he'll go to Washington and be just another Obama clone" message that Republicans were pushing. Manchin won with 61 percent of the vote even while Mitt Romney was winning 62 percent statewide.
It's smart strategy by Tennant -- but it's not likely to succeed. Manchin was able to sell the "I'm not Obama" message in large part because he had spent the six years prior to serving in the Senate as the state's governor and, prior to that, had held elected office in the state almost continuously since the early '80s. People felt like they knew who Manchin was by the time he ran for Senate. His relationships built over decades allowed him to not only run an ad like "Dead Aim" but for people to believe the message in it.
Not so, Tennant. She was first elected to office in West Virginia in 2008 to the relatively low-profile position of Secretary of State. (She was reelected to that job in 2012.) Tennant is simply not the known commodity that Manchin was and is, making it harder for her to beat back attacks on her as an Obama-ite.
Regardless of whether the ad works, it's fascinating that Tennant felt like a message this blunt was the best way she could convince West Virginia voters that she wouldn't be a rubber stamp for the Obama agenda in Washington. In West Virginia at least, it's impossible for a Democrat to get too far away from President Obama.