The first time I watched it, I thought this was some sort of statement about his name recognition in Kentucky. So familiar is he to the state’s voters, the clip seems to imply, that he doesn’t need to actually say anything. Stock footage of him rambling in front of crowds set to generic music is enough to goose his numbers. But there’s a flaw in that theory: What’s with the shots at the beginning of McConnell smiling vacantly? He looks afflicted. Is he going for a sympathy vote?
One of the weirdest ads I’ve ever seen — but as it turns out, there’s a rational explanation.
But the video isn’t about pitching McConnell’s candidacy — at least not directly. It’s about coordinating with super PACs in plain sight.
Candidates and the super PACs that support them aren’t allowed to share videos, or any other information, in private. So campaigns have increasingly gone public, posting b-roll clips of their candidate shaking hands with all sorts of constituents in hopes that the images wind up in future TV ads.
Hence, the McConnell montage includes clips of fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul standing behind him, McConnell shaking hands with students and veterans, sitting beside his wife, standing in front of a “Women for Mitch” sign, working in his office and sauntering down local streets.
The Democrats do this too, as Roll Call’s Nathan Gonzales described in detail last month.
Democrats do indeed do it too. When, not if, some outside group swoops in to attack Matt Bevin or Alison Lundergan Grimes on McConnell’s behalf, they’re going to need stock footage of the man himself for their ads. But they can’t ask directly because of dumb campaign-finance rules; the vid below is thus Team Mitch’s way of exploiting a mile-wide loophole, putting the stock footage on YouTube as an “ad” so that those groups can grab it and edit it however they want. Need to counter a “war on women” attack from the left? Why, coincidentally, here’s Mitch standing with a bunch of women. Need to show that Mitch supports the middle class? Here he is chatting with workers on a factory floor. The goofy shots at the beginning of him staring Gump-ily into the camera are obviously designed to be kickers for those ads. After 27 seconds spent tearing Bevin or Grimes to shreds, they’ll cut to one of those snippets of McConnell/Gump footage with the “Stand With Mitch” tagline or whatever underneath. What you’re watching here, really, is how the advertising sausage gets made. And it is so, so weird.
It’s also a video windfall for McConnell’s critics, though. If you wanted to turn, say, this Erick Erickson post into a mock Mitch ad, you’ve now got everything you need. My advice: Use the shot of him turning towards the camera dramatically for the “It is time to back Matt Bevin against Mitch McConnell” line. Until then, check out the second clip below. Takes awhile for the punchline to arrive, but it’s worth it.