BOISE - The first TV campaign commercial of Idaho’s primary season is out, from congressional candidate Vaughn Ward, featuring him driving and leaning against a big Dodge pickup truck, talking core values.
It’s not actually his truck, it’s a supporter’s. Ward’s campaign said the GOP candidate owns and drives a Ford truck, but it was white and the color didn’t work on camera, so the commercial used the supporter’s grey Dodge.
Ward faces state Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, and three other candidates in the primary race for a shot at challenging Democratic 1st District Congressman Walt Minnick. So far, Ward’s been the leader in fundraising on the GOP side, and his campaign spokesman, Ryan O’Barto, said the new commercial is the first of several that will run from now through the May 25 election. The ad started running in the Boise market this week, and will run in the Spokane and Lewiston markets in the coming weeks.
“It was a significant ad buy,” O’Barto said. “Vaughn’s an Idahoan, we really wanted to get that message across to the district.”
The pickup truck has become a potent political symbol this year, since Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts used his truck as a key part of both his campaign commercials and his message in his successful bid to take over the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by longtime Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy.
The Boston Globe reported in January that the symbol was so successful that sedan-loving easterners in the state actually begin buying more pickup trucks. In one of Brown’s ads, as the camera focused on an odometer showing 199,467 miles, Brown said, “I love this old truck. It’s brought me closer to the people of this state.”
O’Barto said, “I think Vaughn identifies with the people of Idaho, that’s really what we’re trying to drive home here. This has nothing to do with Scott Brown. This has to do with Idaho and what we need to do to fix the country.”
Labrador, who entered the race late and has lagged in fundraising, said, “I guess I would be driving my own pickup truck in my own ad. … That’s what was effective about the Scott Brown and other ads, was that these were people who were actually driving their pickup trucks around the state.”
Labrador said, “I drive a sedan, and we have five kids so I have a Suburban.” On a campaign trip to Lewiston this week, he flew. “But it’s not my ad, so I’m not the one who’s going out there telling people I’m going around in a pickup truck,” he said.
He hasn’t been able to afford any TV ads so far, but hopes to have some yet. Toward that goal, this week Labrador reduced his campaign manager, Max Hunsacker, to a part-time consultant and moved volunteers to take over some of his duties. “You have to make a fiscal decision of where you want the money, and I want the money on getting the message out,” Labrador said.
He estimated he’s raised only about $37,000 in the current fundraising period, for which reports are due this week. Through December, Labrador had raised $83,000; Ward, $307,000; and incumbent Minnick $1.16 million.
Minnick, a member of the conservative Democratic “blue dogs” caucus, on Thursday picked up a surprise endorsement from the Tea Party Express, a national group that held a big Tax Day rally in Washington, D.C. and that otherwise endorsed only Republicans.
Ward’s ad, filmed at a supporter’s farm in Eagle, shows the Dodge pickup driving down a road, then Ward leaning against it talking to a nodding supporter, saying, “Washington liberals are bankrupting our country. We need to send somebody back to Washington who’ll stand up to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. We need to get back to our core values, of strong families, strong national defense and lower taxes, and that’s what I’ll do.” A voiceover then says, “The right leadership for Idaho” as the pickup tailgate is shown closing, displaying a Ward campaign sticker.
Ward’s then shown driving the pickup, changing the channel when an AM radio station intones “The spending continues in Washington.” Then, he’s shown with his wife and two young children, saying, “I’m Vaughn Ward, I’m a pro-life Republican, and I approved this message.”
Jim Weatherby, Boise State University political scientist emeritus, said the ad is effective. “It covers all of the hot buttons in the Republican Party, from fiscal conservatism to social conservatism, and I suspect that’s what this race will be about, who is the real conservative,” he said.
The one “misstep” in Ward’s ad, Weatherby said: The borrowed truck. “You’re always looking at a candidate for authenticity,” he said.