Late last week, U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Hayworth, who is challenging five-term incumbent and failed 2008 presidential candidate John McCain for the Republican nomination in McCain’s Arizona senate seat, ran an online ad spoofing his opponent as a fake conservative. The response was predictable, and indicative of the sluggish nature of the “maverick” senator’s approach to virtually everything political over the past several years.
The ad itself isn’t exactly a masterpiece. It’s meant to coincide with this weekend’s Academy Awards, specifically the likelihood that the James Cameron film Avatar will take home a few Oscars – thus McCain is depicted with blue war paint on his face a la Cameron’s Na’vi protagonists:
Initially, there must have been some confusion about what Hayworth’s campaign was going for, because after the first reactions to the ad it was changed to more closely reflect the message:
Is the ad stupid? Sure. It doesn’t quite rank up with the ridiculous “Demon Sheep” ad Carly Fiorina’s senate campaign ran in California last month, but it’s still a dumb campaign ad.
But the McCain Avatar ad is likely to resonate, a little, because it speaks to something conservatives like Hayworth have thought about McCain for a long time – namely, that he’s a poser as a conservative. McCain’s record on amnesty for illegal aliens, on the global warming fraud, on bailouts and so forth place him far from the mainstream of the Republican Party’s conservative base in 2010, and yet he continues to put himself forward as a conservative. So even a poorly-executed ad which fires at him from the right is going to hit home to an extent.
McCain’s response should have been to ignore it, dismiss it as idiotic or ridicule it as something a high school kid threw together with Photoshop. Instead, they called it offensive and elevated it into a national issue – the worst possible move. First, McCain’s campaign manager went ballistic…
“Ex-Congressman J.D. Hayworth should immediately apologize and and take down his latest online ad, which is an outrageous offense to John McCain’s lifetime of honorable service to our state and nation, and insulting to Native Americans here in Arizona and across America,” said Shiree Verdone, McCain’s campaign manager. “Mr. Hayworth is welcome to debate the challenges facing our state and nation, but this kind of character assassination has no place in the Republican Party, and Mr. Hayworth should ashamed of his campaign for running it.”
Then, McCain got fellow Arizona senator John Kyl to denounce the ad…
“Ads like this have no place in the Republican primary, and J.D. Hayworth should immediately take it down and apologize.”
…and then his campaign spokesman Brian Rogers put out an official-sounding whine after the ad changed to blue-faced McCain:
“The Hayworth campaign obviously understands that the ad is offensive since they’ve already changed it. Unfortunately, this proves yet again that Mr. Hayworth isn’t focused on solving the big challenges Arizona faces, but instead seems consumed by petty and insulting attacks against Senator McCain. It’s another example of just how hollow all of Mr. Hayworth’s talk about ‘respecting’ Senator McCain actually is.”
A little free advice for the McCain camp – “outrageous,” “character assassination,” “petty,” “insulting” and “offensive” are the wrong words to use, because they sound like emotional screaming from a stuck pig. That kind of response doesn’t make anyone think the ad is untrue – and Hayworth was able to score with their counterpunch:
“We respectfully decline the request and would encourage Senator McCain to get a sense of humor. After all, if Sunday’s show did have an award for best election year flip-flopping and transparent conservative conversion, the incumbent would surely win the Oscar.”
What does this exchange say to the casual observer? First, that while Hayworth might be a little goofy and perhaps a tad classless he’s definitely not boring. And second, that McCain’s 2010 senate campaign is a lot like his 2008 presidential campaign – slow, poorly-thought-out, lacking in punch and on the defensive. McCain has a lot more money than Hayworth and the GOP establishment has lined up behind him despite decades in which he was akin to an abcessed tooth to it, but it doesn’t seem to be translating into the senator having a greater ability to control the narrative.