God and guns are the new stars of Democratic TV advertising in the South.
The combo are veteran cast members of the GOP’s regional spots, but endangered Democrats and their consultants increasingly see touting faith and firearms as the best way to distinguish their candidates from the national party.
“The key to succeeding in an ad is being authentic and meeting the voters where they are, but it has to be true to you as well,” says Steve Murphy, who was Georgia Rep. John Barrow’s (D) media consultant.
Despite being gerrymandered into a tougher district, Barrow was able to knock out a seven-point victory in 2012. Many observers credited his win to a successful ad campaign, which included a spot that featured a seated Barrow handling a pistol and a rifle. While it drew snickers in the NYC-DC corridor, but it helped establish Barrow as his own man in voters’ eyes.
“Advertising is different in different parts of the country. It’s important to capture the cultural voice of the region,” says Murphy. “John Barrow’s campaign message was, he’s doing what’s right for Georgia and he didn’t care what either party said if it wasn’t right for Georgia.”
Sen. Mark Pryor (D), who is facing a tough 2014 reelection bid in Arkansas, is trying to deliver a similar message with his current ad campaign. Pryor released a spot this week that shows him seated with the family Bible. “I’m not ashamed to say that I believe in God and I believe in His word,” he says, holding the holy book in both hands. “This is my compass, my North Star.”
The two-term senator goes on to say that “only God” has “all the answers,” not his party or the Republicans.
The ad, which was produced by Democratic media firm Dixon Davis Media, was released a week after his likely opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, released an ad which featured the Republican’s mother and had a Christmas theme.
Pryor’s ad will succeed, says Murphy, “if he’s being genuine.”
Murphy says that distance from the national party is something that most Democrats need to establish. “In not only the South, but in most of the heartland of the country it is essential to distinguish yourself from the Democratic Party in the Northeast or West Coast,” he says.
Whether a Bible or a rifle is necessary to do that is up to the candidates and their consultants.