In Iowa Campaign Ads, GOP Candidates Market Themselves One Last Time

With Mitt Romney gaining a narrow lead over Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) on the eve of the Iowa caucus, and with an equally heated race continuing among the remaining contenders, a tremendous emphasis has been placed on the advertisements purchased in the Hawkeye State and whether these investments will pay dividends. As of December 29, candidates and outside groups had spent roughly $6.5 million on local television advertisements in preparation for the caucuses. These carefully crafted messages speak volumes about the candidates’ own brands and their strategies to pull ahead in the polls.

In an attempt to rescue his sinking campaign, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has made substantial financial investments to become the self-proclaimed “Washington outsider” in a field of Beltway insiders. Taking a page out of George W. Bush’s 2000 playbook, Perry has adopted the persona of a Lone Star state renegade who will swoop into the capital and single-handedly end government bureaucracy. In one ad titled “Problem/Solution,” the campaign targets Romney and Gingrich by calling them “insiders” and reaffirms that Perry’s plans to overhaul Washington “make him the outsider political insiders fear most.”


In “Outsider,” another ad being run in the State, Perry again declares him “the outsider, who’s willing to step on some toes.” With his twangy drawl and threat to cut Congress’ pay in half in the absence of results, Perry markets himself as a small-town Texan native looking to lasso in big government.

Romney’s campaign has adopted a different tactic and has chosen “character” as their team’s motif. In this vein, Romney has run a commercial featuring his wife Ann, who has been afflicted with both multiple sclerosis and breast cancer during their 42-year marriage. In the ad, a well-coiffed Ann Romney tells the viewers that “you can never predict what kind of tough decisions are going to come in front of a president’s desk … if you really want to know how a person will operate, look at how they’ve lived their life.” 


The flashing black and white photographs amid soft background music underscore commitment: The candidate working tirelessly at his desk, a younger Ann and Mitt Romney holding two toe-headed toddlers, the couple standing shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity. The message, much like Romney himself, is unambiguous.

Where Mitt Romney’s campaign focuses on personal integrity and commitment, Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) team has chosen to hone in on dedication and authenticity. In “Voices from Michele Bachmann’s 99 County Tour: Part Two,” Bachmann’s campaign capitalizes on her sweeping 99 county tour of the state and uses what appears to be unscripted voices of Iowans touting her electability. 


Bachmann is banking on “ordinary folks” speaking on behalf of a Christian candidate (who purports to not be a politician) resonating with undecided Tea Party and Pro-Life voters.

In this endlessly entertaining Republican race for the nomination, the advertisements in Iowa clearly highlight what candidates believe to be their strongest virtues, virtues that will propel them into the general election and ultimately, the White House.  

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Danielle Schlanger

Graduate student at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.

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