With another midterm election very nearly in the books, it's time to take stock of the cycle's campaign ads. The best of the best inspired us with full-hearted positivity, shrewd arguments and personal stories that humanized the candidates. The worst of the bunch featured easily punctured deceptions, shameless exploitation of tragedies real and imagined, and desperate measures undertaken by justifiably doomed competitors. Meanwhile, somewhere in the space between respectable and reprehensible, some of your bravest ad-makers rolled the dice with talking chickens, sharknadoes, dream ballets, and half-naked men staggering out of the water to yell at you for seemingly no reason.
This is where most of the money spent by goofy billionaires trying to buy this election went.
The best campaign ad of the year is “In A Box,” from Darius Foster, Republican running for the Alabama State House. It’s possibly one of the the most positive campaign ads you'll ever see: Foster neatly presents himself as community-oriented and hopeful, brimming with heart, good humor and a dose of brio. You’re probably going to want the guy to win after watching it.
This ad, from Alaska's Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, uses footage to remind voters that his father, who served in the House of Representatives, went missing in a plane crash in 1972. The pivot here is the message, offered by Begich’s wife, depicting Begich as carrying his late father’s spirit and bringing it to his constituents.
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and his dad stick up for Obamacare in this ad, "Cancer." This was a rare instance of a Democrat in a tight race standing behind the Affordable Care Act, and expertly highlighting the stakes.
People mocked this ad from Iowa’s Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst, featuring mention of castrating pigs, when it first came out. Could be that Ernst has the last laugh, because weird as it may be, it put Ernst on the map and emphasized some common ground with Iowa farmers.
The success that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke has had in keeping her race with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) close is encapsulated in this ad, in which she uses Walker's words -- specifically his pledge to create 250,000 jobs -- against him.
"For Janey" explains one of Democratic North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan’s discrete accomplishments as a legislator -- in this case, fighting for the families of veterans affected by water contamination at Camp LeJeune -- in a way that reveals the importance of the work that legislators do in Washington.
Undeniably great ad from the GOP’s candidate for the Oregon Senate seat, Monica Wehby, detailing how she helped reconstruct the spine of infant Lexi LIebelt, who’s 12 years old today. As Lexi’s mother retells the story, she wells up with tears of happiness. They are earned.
This ad actually isn’t that great, but everyone loves a good callback, and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) bringing back the bloodhounds from an ad he cut back in 1984 will make the political junkies crack a smile.
Anne Armstrong is running for the Rhode Island statehouse as a member of the Rhode Island Compassion Party. Hey, you do you, Anne. You do you. (Also: She is right!)
Hey, here’s a couple of chickens having a bro-down in this attack ad against Iowa Senate candidate Bruce Braley (D), no big deal.
Mitch McConnell's campaign team discovers auto-tune four years after it was a thing, proceeds to create an aural war crime using Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes’ last name.
No one really knows what the Michigan Republican Party was thinking when they created this insane "Sharknado"-themed attack ad against Democratic Senate candidate Gary Peters, but I have a feeling it was, “Hey, we’ve got 60 bucks, and my brother’s kid is studying digital animation at the University of Phoenix.”
This ad, in support of failed Mississippi Republican Senate candidate Chris McDaniel, starts out badly enough: terrible, awkward “acting,” a mention of Mark Levin’s nutball book ... but then one of the characters says, “I had a dream about that,” and the next three minutes are lost in the fabric of someone’s deeply weird imagination.
What if weird billionaires from out of state cut an ad accusing other weird billionaires from out of state of cutting ads? Welcome to the future, a snake devouring its own tail forever.
Kelly Kutala is a former Democratic member of Kansas’ state senate who’s now running for the U.S. House in Kansas’ 3rd district. But if that’s too hard to remember, you can just say, “Kelly Kutala is the one who cut the ad with all the naked people in it.”
J.D. Winteregg: ever heard of him? He’s one of two Republicans to challenge Speaker of the House John Boehner in the 2014 primary. He’s best known for this dick joke. He lost, obviously.
The spirit of Mike Gravel lives on in this ad, which is titled, “Oh, hey, that’s nice. I think -- wait. What is that? What is happening? Who is that guy and why is he yelling, and why is he in swim trunks and WHAT IS THAT ABOUT STRIP CLUBS?”
Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor (D) also cut one of the worst ads of the cycle, this Ebola-fearmonger-y spot that all but accuses Rep. Tom Cotton (R) of being pro-Ebola.
Several candidates used footage of James Foley's ISIS executioner -- including Allen Weh, GOP Senate candidate in New Mexico. Foley’s understandably aggrieved family had to demand that they stop doing this.
The College Republican National Committee produced a series of ads themed around "Say Yes To The Dress" that went out of their way to flamboyantly insult the intelligence of women. Not a good look, guys!
Virgina Republican Senate candidate Ed Gillespie could have spent the last remaining dollars of his doomed campaign’s war chest on anything. Instead, he chose to throw this Hail Mary pass of an ad, focusing on the controversy surrounding the name of Washington’s NFL team. (He’s fine with it, in case you were wondering. Republican candidates for the Virginia statehouse do love their racial slurs!) His donors, whoever they are, thank him, I guess.
Speaking of doomed campaigns, here’s California Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari rescuing a drowning child. The child is drowning because of Jerry Brown and teachers' unions. The ad was widely considered to be a disgraceful stunt, because it was.
In this ad, Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes accuses Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of “pocket[ing] $600,000 from enemies of coal, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.” If that sounds strange to you, well, that’s because it isn’t true. (Embed unavailable, view ad here.)
It's not every day a campaign ad features the candidate getting hit in the crotch, but that day came for the GOP’s candidate for the Minnesota Senate seat, Mike McFadden:
Current Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst will soon be Texas’ former Lieuenant Governor -- he lost his primary to state Sen. Dan Patrick. Part of Dewhurst’s desperate efforts to hold on to his job involved this ad, which ruined “Frozen” for everyone. (Embed unavailable, view ad here.)
When all else fails, hire a Morgan Freeman impersonator and compare yourself to Nelson Mandela. (Hey, this actually works for some candidates!)
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