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'Stock up on condoms': Campaign ads go for shock value in final blitz

Reaction from 'MediaBuzz' host Howard Kurtz

 

Condom shortages. A drowning child. Drug-addled monkeys. 

These are just a few of the topics tackled in the final batch of campaign ads being aired ahead of next week's elections, as political campaigns and allied groups push the envelope in pursuit of undecided voters and perhaps those who hadn't been paying attention until now. 

The new ads run the gamut from the creative and charmingly offbeat to the disturbing to the simply bizarre. In the final blitz before Election Day, many are going for raw shock value. 

Take Neel Kashkari’s “Betrayal” spot. 

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The largely self-financed GOP candidate who is challenging California Gov. Jerry Brown released a 30-second ad earlier this month showing a young boy drowning in a pool. As the boy flails, a message on the screen reads, “When kids in failing schools begged Jerry Brown for rescue, HE BETRAYED THEM.” The ad then shows Kashkari saving the boy and saying, “When I’m governor, I’ll fight for kids, not against them.”

The piece was panned by some political analysts. “For a political ad, it’s running on the outer edge of acceptable,” Barbara O’Connor, director emeritus of the nonpartisan Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, told a Sacramento television station. 

But Kashkari says he “wanted the most dramatic image” he could find, adding, “I don’t think the ad goes far enough.” The Republican continues to trail far behind Brown. An Oct. 22 Public Policy Institute of California poll shows Kashkari trailing Brown by 16 percentage points, 52-36 percent.

One new ad raising eyebrows is from NARAL, a left-leaning pro-choice organization that is weighing in on Colorado’s tight Senate race between Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall and Republican challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner. 

The ad suggests a vote for Gardner would lead to a birth control ban and a national run on condoms. It starts with a female narrator saying, “Guys, guys, guys, guys.” The video shows a man’s hand groping for a condom wrapper on a nightstand. “If Cory Gardner gets his way, you better stock up on condoms,” the narrator says. The commercial cuts to a couple in bed with the male frustrated he’s apparently run out of contraceptives. 

The group is referring to a bill Gardner backed that reportedly could ban some types of birth control, but a recent fact check notes Gardner does not actually want to ban birth control.  

The ad, promoted as “edgy” by NARAL, hasn’t been a home run with all voters.   

“Ummmmmm, okay. Wait – what?” Lisa Carter, a voter in Colorado, told FoxNews.com after she watched the spot, adding that it did little to sway her vote. “It’s just weird and creepy, you know?” 

Then there's an ad by the National Republican Congressional Committee against Georgia Rep. John Barrow. It features a woman sitting on a stool with a monkey on her shoulder, in an attempt to make a point about outrageous government spending. 

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“$820,000 of our tax dollars were spent studying how monkeys respond to unfairness and how they act while on cocaine. Think about that,” the narrator says.

This election cycle, guns were used in several ads and showcased candidates from both parties bragging about their shooting skills in open fields.

In Kentucky’s competitive Senate race between incumbent Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, both sides relied heavily on their love of guns to get their message across.

In a Grimes ad from last month, she’s shown skeet shooting, saying she’s “not Barack Obama.” She also offers to show McConnell how to hold a gun.

McConnell, though, went up this week with a whimsical ad showing him getting advice on how to make ... commercials. One scene shows his ad gurus telling him, "We see you between two trucks" -- before showing McConnell's face glued onto the famous Jean-Claude Van Damme ad where the actor is seen doing a split between two big rigs. 

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But perhaps one of the strangest political ads airing this election year involves the tag-team duo of Nevada congressional GOP candidate Kamau Bakari and outspoken rancher Cliven Bundy. 

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Dressed as cowboys and standing next to a horse, Bakari and Bundy awkwardly attempt to poke fun at political correctness and racism in the web video. They also challenge Attorney General Eric Holder to debate the issue of race with them. 

Bakari is running in the 1st Congressional District race against Democratic incumbent Rep. Dina Titus and GOP candidate Annette Teijeiro.

Bundy speaks in the ad, saying he ought to be able to say whatever he wants without being labeled a racist. The Nevada rancher had been criticized earlier this year for suggesting black people were better off as slaves. As of Thursday, the Bakari-Bundy ad had more than 60,000 hits on YouTube. 

While some last-minute ads are seen as a Hail Mary, others are meant to motivate a constituency in tight races, J.J. Balaban, a partner at The Campaign Group, told FoxNews.com.

Balaban, who has helped create television and radio ads for campaigns in 34 states and 54 congressional districts, says it all comes down to how competitive a race is and where the ads run. For example, some candidates in smaller races don’t have a ton of cash and so they rely on cheap web videos that have an amateurish feel and tend to be more outlandish than those paid for and aired on traditional media outlets. 

“What you’ll see is that web videos get a lot of attention, but it’s a mistake to treat them with the same weight [as paid TV ads],” Balaban said, adding that most web videos are like a flash in the pan. The crazier they are, though, the more likely a reporter is going to spot it.

“These ads succeed when reporters write about them, and you aren’t going to write about them if they aren’t off the wall or wacky,” he said.

Campaigns are still running plenty of paid TV ads. According to the Center for Public Integrity, a review of preliminary data shows that 908,000 television ads for Senate races will have aired through Monday. “With a week’s worth of advertising yet to be tallied, to say nothing of the deluge of messaging that would flood anticipated Senate runoff contests in Georgia and Louisiana, the million-ad mark will be eclipsed soon,” CPI states on its site.