Cory Gardner for Senate, “Nice Guy”

  • Title: “Nice Guy”
  • Sponsor: Cory Gardner for Senate
  • Issue of Focus: Political Stagnation of the Senate
  • Type of Advertisement: Mixed (attacks Mark Udall and the status quo and portrays Cory Gardner positively)
  • Broadcast Location: Colorado
  • Release Date: September 24, 2014
  • Length: 30-second spot
  • Web Address: http://corygardnerforsenate.com/multimedia/

“Nice Guy” script

Cory Gardner: “I’m Cory Gardner, and I’m going to tell you something you’ve never heard in a political commercial. My opponent, Mark Udall is a real nice guy. He’s a nice guy who will never change the Senate. He is the Senate. Eighteen years in politics, and he’s got two cousins who are Senators too. Mark Udall’s dad even ran for president.  My dad? Well, he sells tractors. Just like my granddad, and I’m, darn proud of that. Let’s shake up the Senate. I’m Cory Gardner and I approve this message.”

Analysis of “Nice Guy”

Devin Scott, University of Maryland

Ad Context

“Nice Guy” is a political advertisement that was created for Cory Gardner, the Republican U.S. Senate Candidate from Colorado campaigning against the Democrat incumbent, Mark Udall. “Nice Guy” was released September 24, 2014. This ad was created to highlight the differences between Cory Gardner and Mark Udall in the close race for one of Colorado’s U.S. Senate seats. Cory Gardner is currently the representative for Colorado’s 4th congressional district. His opponent, Mark Udall, has been a United States Senator representing Colorado since 2009. 

Ad Analysis

Cory Gardner’s ad “Nice Guy” responds to the assumption that Colorado voters are tired of traditional negative ads. In response to this assumption, the ad disguises its negative characteristics through its use of the unassuming genre of campaign biography. In “Nice Guy,” Gardner appears to be merely asserting that his opponent, Mark Udall, is a “real nice guy,” while extolling the virtues of his own father and granddad’s agrarian background selling tractors. In actuality, Gardner’s statement that Mark Udall is “a real nice guy” serves as a smokescreen for Gardner’s critique of Mark Udall and the inability of his family dynasty to change Washington politics. Gardner’s compliment of Udall serves to disarm viewers who are weary of negative ads, while still painting Udall in a negative light. “Nice Guy” is a negative ad masquerading as a positive one through its use of the bio genre ad.

The content of “Nice Guy” suggests its ideal audience is the undecided independent voter who believes Mark Udall is a nice guy, yet is dissatisfied with the status quo in Washington. These voters will most likely appreciate an ad that doesn’t come across as overly negative and that features a nice guy, Cory Gardner, talking about his family and complimenting his opponent. Gardner’s atypical compliment of Udall implies that Gardner isn’t your typical politician; instead, he’s actually a nice guy. Therefore, “Nice Guy” appeals to undecided voters who are tired of attack ads and want a nice guy they can relate to.

The reliance on the genre of the bio ad by “Nice Guy” impacts the structure of the advertisement.[1] To fit within the audience’s perception of the bio genre, “Nice Guy” focuses on Gardner’s background and family life both verbally and visually. Gardner is shown smiling and wearing a plaid shirt with blue jeans in the foreground, while his father and a colleague work on a tractor in the background. Such work implies an agrarian background. Even the music is the sort of calm, mildly uplifting music that one might expect to hear in the beginning of a bio ad.

There are, however, some key differences between “Nice Guy” and traditional bio ads that draw attention to its attack ad characteristics. During the sections of the advertisement where Gardner speaks about Udall, he refrains from smiling, which implies his disappointment in Udall and his family’s support of the status quo in Washington politics. Like most bio ads, Gardner spends time talking about family. What separates “Nice Guy” from the bio ad genre is Gardner’s focus on both his family and Mark Udall’s family. When he talks about Udall’s family, he paints a picture of career politicians and a political dynasty, which he contrasts with his own family’s reliance on the land in rural America. The ad is less about an uplifting biography of Gardner, and more about framing Udall as a Washington insider and Gardner, in contrast, as an agrarian, with strong roots in Colorado.

Gardner’s claim that he’s “going to tell you something you’ve never heard in a political commercial” is both truthful and misleading. Yes, Gardner is complimenting his opponent when stating that “Mark Udall is a real nice guy.” However, by claiming that such a compliment is unprecedented in U.S. politics, Gardner is implicitly claiming that he is the unique candidate high in character.  What’s ultimately misleading is the implicit claim that “Nice Guy” is a positive ad. The claim that an opponent is a Washington insider is not characteristic of a positive ad. Gardner’s compliment of Udall both disarms viewers and, as one commenter put it, “gives them permission to like Udall but vote against him.”[2] In their book, Negative Political Advertising: Coming of Age, Johnson-Cartee and Copeland remind us that political ads that set up an implied comparison between candidates are actually negative ads, even if they seem to be positive.[3]

The inclusion of Gardner’s classification of Udall as a “real nice guy” serves several practical ends. First, it camouflages the negative portrayal of Udall and his family as Washington insiders. Second, it provides ample opportunities for earned media, as evidenced by the number of websites and blogs that picked up the advertisement, the statement it garnered from Udall and the DSCC, and the numerous tweets surrounding the controversy.[4] Finally, the compliment provides cover and a convenient sound bite for Gardner and his staff, who have claimed that “For six months Sen. Udall has done nothing but wage the nastiest campaign in America and now he is upset that we are calling him a nice guy”?[5] By calling Udall “a real nice guy,” Gardner and his staff have a built-in, condescending rebuttal to any cries by Udall or the Democratic Party that “Nice Guy” is in any way negative or inappropriate. “Nice Guy” thus helps disarm viewers and actually features Cory Gardner as the truly nice guy in the contentious Senate campaign.

[1] John S. Nelson and G.R. Boynton, Video Rhetorics: Televised Advertising in American Politics (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1997).

[2] Jake Walker,  “CO-Sen: Cory Gardner’s New “Nice Guy” Ad | RedState,” RedState, September 24, 2014,  http://www.redstate.com/2014/09/24/co-sen-cory-gardners-new-nice-guy-ad/

[3] Karen S. Johnson-Cartee and Gary Copeland, Negative Political Advertising: Coming of Age (Hillsdale, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates, 1991), 48.

[4] Lynn Bartels, “Sen. Mark Udall Upset with New Ad He Says Attacks His Family,” The Spot Web, September 24, 2014, http://blogs.denverpost.com/thespot/2014/09/24/cory-gardner-commercial-mark-udall-mo-udall/113209/. See also: Ham, Mary Katharine. “DSCC Freaking out over Cory Gardner Ad That Literally Calls Udall a “nice Guy” – Hot Air.” HotAir.com. September 24, 2014. http://hotair.com/archives/2014/09/24/dscc-freaking-out-over-cory-gardner-ad-that-literally-calls-udall-a-nice-guy/ http://blogs.denverpost.com/thespot/2014/09/24/cory-gardner-commercial-mark-udall-mo-udall/113209/

[5] Valerie, Richardson,  “GOP Doubles down with Ad Slamming the Udall ‘Dynasty,’” Washington Times, September 26, 2014. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/sep/26/gop-doubles-down-ad-slamming-udall-dynasty/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS.