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Fake Plastic Campaign Commercials


Once you get beyond local politics, any talk of authenticity usually makes me laugh. I caught one of Alex Sink's TV commercials this weekend and though it was brand new, I got an odd sense of déjà vu – like I'd seen it before somewhere. Then it hit me that I had, in fact seen the commercial before, only it was for someone else's campaign. Today's messages seem so contrived, manufactured and focus group tested that one has to wonder, what if anything the outrageously expensive political pageantry has to do with the candidates themselves or what (if anything) they actually stand for.

Sink's new ad features her father, Kester Sink, in a cute little two-camera back and forth meant to humanize her by showing voters she's more like them than they might otherwise think. It's a typical, benign political puff-piece, except that it seems to blatantly rip off an ad Massachusetts state legislator Carl Sciortino ran in a Democratic primary against Katherine Clark, when the two were battling for their party's nomination in another special Congressional election last fall, this time to fill a Massachusetts seat that was being vacated by Congressman Ed Markey (see both ads below).

Sciortino is openly gay with a very progressive record. He wasn't considered a threat to Clark, an establishment Democrat in the Massachusetts Senate who had strong financial support and most of the meaningful endorsements. But after promising early showings, Sciortino earned the support of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and People For the American Way (PFAW), both of whom got behind his campaign. Then came the ad, which featured his Tea Party father talking about dealing with his son's coming out – as a liberal. It quickly caught fire, going viral on the web. While he still lost to Clark, who went on to win the reliably-Democratic seat, the commercial spot was all the buzz among everyone in the multi-billion dollar political campaign industry.

Now, there are few industries that lack creativity to the degree that political advertising does, so copying someone else's assignment is par for the course. In fact, I can't even say for certain that Sciortino's ad was not a riff on another pol's commercial, so I'm not picking on Alex Sink because she couldn't come up with something original. But Sink, who served as the state's CFO before narrowly losing to Rick Scott in 2010's gubernatorial race, hasn't exactly managed to connect with voters and while the ad might have been an attempt to do so, it looks like it'll end up being just another opportunity for her to be portrayed as a plastic candidate, willing to wear any face that gets her into higher office.

Sink first rubbed me the wrong way when she bullied Bud Chiles out of the 2010 race, warning the son of Florida's most popular governor that the DNC was prepared to bury him under a pile of money if he challenged her. When she started eying Young's seat – which was not even in her home county – Sink's supporters once again made it clear that they saw no reason for her to have to waste precious campaign dollars dispatching local attorney Jessica Ehrlich, who'd put together an impressive little grass roots campaign before the national Democratic machine made it clear that all support would again be thrown to Mrs. Sink.

Sink, a former banking exec with BOA, might promote herself as a strong, glass-ceiling shattering, independent female, but in truth, she's much more Hillary Clinton than Elizabeth Warren. Woman or not, she seems to embody the sort of backroom, boys-club politics in which the party-bosses decide who's going where, rather than let something as petty as the democratic choice of the voters get in the way. It might be progress that the Democratic Party's good old boy club is becoming co-ed, but it's still dynastic plutocrats calling the shots from on high.

In the March 11 election, Sink faces Libertarian Lucas Overby and Republican David Jolly, who will obviously be her biggest challenge, though he's not what you'd call a strong candidate either. Jolly was a former aide to Young – a defense industry schill and typical “conservative” hypocrite who preached family values to others while finding them a little stifling for his own sordid personal life. When Jolly left that gig, he became a lobbyist. That's not exactly the sort of resume that screams ethics and integrity. Perhaps it's a good time for Pinellas voters to take a look at Lucas Overby.

Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at dennis.maley@thebradentontimes.com. Click here to visit his column archive. Click here to go to his bio page. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook.


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