Carl DeMaio for Congress, “A New Generation Republican”

“Carl DeMaio: A New Generation Republican” Transcript

Voiceover: Beauty all around us. We are proud. Creative. Bold. Daring. Diverse. Strong. Americans. Californians. San Diegans. We can’t be told that reform isn’t possible. Or our nation can’t be better with new ideas. We don’t have to accept the tired faces of the past. This is the present. Our future is bountiful with the possibilities of a better day. There’s a new way. A new approach. For a new time. A problem solver. Who isn’t afraid to be different. He dared to take on the city’s special interests. He led the movement to save San Diego from bankruptcy and fix our pension crisis. He believes in equality and diversity and he is a defender of our personal freedoms. Power of the people over partisanship. It is a strength that is rarely shown in politicians, but it exists in all of us. He believes in us. In San Diego. Who is this man? Carl DeMaio. A new generation Republican. A reformer. Our next congressman.

Analysis of “Carl DeMaio: A New Generation Republican”

Hagar Attia, University of Maryland

Ad Context

In a very competitive congressional race, Democrat incumbent Scott Peters and Republican Carl DeMaio compete for the battleground race of the 52nd district of California. This district is situated in the southern part of the state and includes parts of San Diego county. Though it is a tight contest between the two candidates, this race also gets attention not only because this is DeMaio’s first congressional race, but also because he is an openly gay Republican. DeMaio is also heavily criticized by both conservative Republicans as well as liberals, including LGBT activists. DeMaio’s divisiveness and controversial past prompted his campaign to release a positive, unifying, and largely optimistic advertisement that painted a more palatable picture of the candidate.

Content of Advertisement

Running as a Republican in a largely blue state is a challenge enough. But running as an openly gay Republican has its own set of hardships. However, in the 52nd district of California, this challenge may offer opportunities. In an area of the state that is socially liberal, yet fiscally conservative, being socially conscious with strong Republican values can be an advantage. Yet, DeMaio has not been strongly endorsed by either side of the political spectrum. Socially conservative groups such as the National Organization for Marriage view DeMaio as a threat to traditional values.[1] And the LGBT activist community has not warmly welcomed DeMaio because he is seen by some as shirking his civic responsibilities to the movement.[2] Furthermore, DeMaio’s political persona in prior public service has been characterized as divisive; he has been called a “flamethrower” for inciting conflict.[3]

In light of his controversial standing with both sides of the aisle, DeMaio’s campaign released an uncharacteristically positive and unifying advertisement. Instead of framing the advertisement in order to “sell” DeMaio as a candidate, the ad turns the tables on the voters and carefully cultivates an electoral identity that fits with DeMaio’s image. The ad’s message—visual and verbal—constructs an electorate that aligns its views with DeMaio’s political image and political commitments as the candidate.

At first glance, the ad appears more as a travel promotion than a political advertisement. High quality images open up with a young female voiceover. Beginning with “Beauty all around us,” the voiceover addresses the citizens of San Diego directly. “We are proud,” the voiceover proclaims, and proceeds to list positive attributes for the city: “Creative, bold, daring, diverse, strong, American, Californian, San Diegan.” Each word is artfully reinforced visually with a diverse range of people and images: a female artist, a sweating boxer, an American flag waving on a sun-kissed prairie, a convertible driving with the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, and of a skyline photograph of San Diego’s stunning nightscape. At this point, there is no indication that this is a political advertisement. The few piano notes building up in the background are more characteristic of travel ads or motivational videos than political commercials. This uncommon style of a political ad immediately casts Demaio as an uncommon political candidate.

The positive aura of the ad is furthered by the use of inclusive and unifying pronouns instead of pronouns focused on DeMaio and his opponents. The voiceover continues to use collective terminology such as “we” and “our” to create community with the audience. “We can’t be told that reform isn’t possible. Or our nation can’t be better with new ideas. We don’t have to accept the tired faces of the past. This is the present. Our future is bountiful with the possibilities of a better day.” By juxtaposing “us” in the “present” with the “tired faces of the past,” a clear positive identity is established for the in-group (San Diegans) versus other groups. The identity formed is proud, optimistic, capable, accepting, and forward-thinking. It contrasts significantly with the “tired faces of the past” who are presumably stuck in their old, backwards, ideas.

Once this identity is created, DeMaio is introduced as a “problem solver” with a “new approach” and a “new way.” He is different, not just personally, but also politically. He challenged special interests and saved the city from financial ruin. These accomplishments are expected from a Republican. However, what makes DeMaio a “new generation Republican” is that he believes in equality and diversity as “a defender of our personal freedoms.” This claim is supported by still photographs shown in the background of DeMaio hand in hand with his partner at a Gay Pride parade. The rainbow-colored gay pride flag is raised prominently, symbolizing his commitment to civil rights for the LGBT community.

The ad aims to inspire voters to look at the bigger picture and escape the pettiness of partisan politics. The ad proclaims DeMaio’s practice of “people over partisanship,” which is a “strength that exists in all of us.” This is an interesting departure from the usual self-promoting trajectory of a political ad. Instead of emphasizing this strength in DeMaio, the ad imbues audience members with this strength too, further enhancing their collective identity.

Ultimately, the goal of this ad is to mold a particular type of voter. The ad closes with “He believes in us. In San Diego. Who is this man? Carl DeMaio. A New generation Republican. A reformer. Our next congressman.” Interestingly, the ad mentions DeMaio believing in his constituents, instead of appealing to the audience’s faith in him. This strategy not only affirms a sense of community identity, but also places the responsibility of the election, and by extension the future of San Diego, with the voters. It is now up to them to elect a representative whose platform coincides with their values. However, though these values may have been present before viewing the ad, they were also brought forth and articulated by the ad. The way media organizations construct their audience has significant effects on how that audience understands the message.[4] By constructing a certain type of audience, campaigns can offer the kind of candidate that appeals to their audience. In other words, the ad doesn’t adapt the “product” it is selling to the audience; instead, it adapts the audience to the “product.”

A cursory glance at this ad would suggest that the campaign is defining Demaio as a socially-responsible reformer who works collaboratively with his constituents. This political image is particularly important since he is construed as a polarizing figure in California politics. Yet, upon closer examination, we find that the ad features an even more sophisticated message that instead is attempting to shape the voters in a way that values the qualities DeMaio offers.

Notes

[1] Kevin Freking, “‘He’s Been A Flamethrower’: Gay GOPer Irks Both Left And Right,” Talking Points Memo, July 16, 2014. Accessed October 5, 2014. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/gay-candidate-left-and-right.

[2] Claire Tragesar, “Some In San Diego’s LGBT Community Not Embracing DeMaio’s Same-Sex Partner Ad,” KPBS Public Media, February 24, 2014. Accessed October 5, 2014. http://www.kpbs.org/news/2014/feb/24/some-san-diegos-lgbt-community-not-embracing-demai/.

[3] Freking, “‘He’s Been A Flamethrower’: Gay GOPer Irks Both Left And Right.”

[4] Charles D. Whitney, and James S Ettema, eds, Audiencemaking: How the Media Create the Audience. (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publishers, 1994), 11.