Domenic Recchia for Congress, “20 Counts”

  • Ad Title: 20 Counts
  • Ad Sponsor: Domenic Recchia for Congress
  • Issue of Focus: Opponent’s character and current indictment.
  • Type of Advertisement: Negative/Attack Ad
  • Broadcast Locations/Target Audiences: New York area, online
  • Date of Airing: September 8, 2014
  • Length: 30 seconds
  • Web Address of the Advertisement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Df5UoQ-77rg

“20 Counts” Transcript 

Transcribed by Hagar Attia

William Cronin [Annadale]: Count one: Lying under oath.

Catherine Anderson [Castleton Corners]: Count two: Failing to report over one million dollars in income.

Chris Walsh [Tottenville]: Count three: Withholding thousands of dollars from his own workers.

Michelle Molinelli [Great Kills]: Count four: Committing wire fraud.

Laura Sword [Westerleigh]: Count five: Committing mail fraud.

Voiceover: Anyone who breaks the law deserves to be prosecuted. Everyone in this district deserves better.

Domenic Recchia: I’m Domenic Recchia and I approve this message.

Analysis of “20 Counts” 

Hagar Attia, University of Maryland

Ad Context

The congressional race for the 11th district of New York is a surprisingly close one. So surprising that it warranted the attention of the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, who commented on the absurdity of the competition.[1] Democratic candidate Domenic Recchia is challenging Republican incumbent Michael Grimm in this battleground district. This race is complicated because Congressman Grimm faces twenty counts of federal indictments.

Ad Content

Even with twenty federal indictments against him, Congressman Michael Grimm is holding his ground in recent polls. He has surpassed his Democratic opponent, Domenic Recchia, by 4 points, even with the attack ad Recchia’s campaign released in September.[2] Nevertheless, Recchia’s advertisement provides a powerful visual and verbal message reminding its viewers of Grimm’s questionable character. While some may disparage this advertisement as a run-of-the-mill-attack ad, this analysis attempts to show how the strategy of attacking an opponent’s political image is a legitimate means of persuading voters. By bringing Grimm’s character into the forefront, Recchia’s advertisement prompts voters to support Recchia instead by questioning Grimm’s capabilities as a leader.

Average citizens condemn Grimm for his character lapses. The advertisement begins with an older gentleman sitting outside. His name, William Cronin, and the neighborhood he represents, appear next to his face. “Count one: lying under oath,” he solemnly declares. His face is heavy with disenchantment. “Count two: failing to report over one million dollars in income,” follows Catherine Anderson from Castleton Corners. She too appears frustrated and disgruntled. Chris Walsh, a man wearing a baseball cap and sitting behind a snack bar, announces the third count: “withholding thousands of dollars from his own workers.” Similarly, all the concerned citizens who appear in this ad share disillusioned facial expressions. By featuring common, everyday citizens, the advertisement emphasizes the effect of Grimm’s crimes on the average citizen. In fact, each count is read by a different person so the sheer number of faces illustrates the magnitude of Grimm alleged violations. While he engaged in “white collar” crimes, the message is clear—Grimm does not care about the everyday, average citizen.

The ad also reinforces the crimes with white words featured on a black screen. “We’d like to tell you all 20 COUNTS in the massive INDICTMENT against MICHAEL GRIMM,” appears on the screen. “But then AGAIN…we only have 30 SECONDS.” In other words, Grimm’s alleged crimes against the 11th district of New York are too numerous to list in the limited space of the advertisement. Grimm’s numerous indictments reinforce the repugnance of Grimm’s crimes since he served as a former Marine and FBI agent.  Given his leadership positions, the ad alludes to the idea that there could be more offenses that he is hiding.

The voiceover presents the conclusion of the argument that Grimm is guilty and should be punished: “Anyone who breaks the law deserves to be prosecuted. Everyone in this district deserves better.” Various, diverse images of the constituents of the district briefly recite a “count” until they reach twenty. Their faces appear in rapid succession until the voiceover and slow, melodic piano solo ends.

The advertisement concludes with the typical, “I am Domenic Recchia and I approve this message.” His campaign slogan “It’s not politics. It’s personal” is also displayed on the screen. Recchia finally appears in the advertisement in the form of a still photograph. Recchia’s left side is facing the viewer. The camera angle is relatively close and angled slightly upward. He appears to be climbing up stairs, but his eyes look downward and are full of seriousness and concern. He seems to have already shouldered the heavy responsibility of public service. This image also implies that Grimm, as the current representative, has failed in this service.

Critics of the advertisement can dismiss it as a negative attack ad that challenges Grimm personally rather than questioning his policies as a political representative. The 18th century British maxim “not men, but measures” speaks to this criticism.[3] However, upon closer examination, interrogating the character and political image of a candidate can be an appropriate and reasonable political strategy. Trevor Parry-Giles defines political image as the “verbal and/or visual rhetorical marker of public character and individual persona.”[4] The rhetorical nature of this political image necessitates its construction from voter perceptions of the candidate.[5] These perceptions include evaluations of that candidate as a public and political persona and not just collection of policy positions. As McGee observes, “Human beings make up a government, not ‘measures’ or ‘issues.’ The quality of a government is thus a function of the quality of leadership, not of the policies advocated by government.”[6] In other words, challenging Grimm’s character and citing his alleged crimes is not a cheap way to tear him down. It speaks to the very core of what political office is about and how one should occupy it.

While the visual and verbal message of the advertisement argue for all the reasons why voters should choose Recchia over the more experienced incumbent, the true strength of the advertisement comes from the legitimacy of the doubts surrounding Grimm’s leadership. No matter how experienced or capable a candidate may be, his or her character and political image can and should be a consideration at the ballot box.

Notes 

[1] Jon Stewart, “Democalypse 2014 – Wait, How the F**k Does That Happen?,” The Daily Show, October 15, 2014. Accessed October 15, 2014. http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/3vgppm/democalypse-2014—wait–how-the-f–k-does-that-happen-.

[2] Tom Wrobleski,”Poll Numbers Hold Challenges, Opportunities for GOP Rep. Michael Grimm and Democrat Domenic Recchia,” SILive.com, September 17, 2014. Accessed October 16, 2014. http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2014/09/poll_numbers_hold_challenges_o.html.

[3] Michael C. McGee, “’Not Men, but Measures’: The Origins and Import of An Ideological Principle,” The Quarterly Journal of Speech, 64 (1978): 142.

[4] Trevor Parry-Giles, “Resisting a ‘Treacherous Piety’: Issues, Images, and Public Policy Deliberations in Presidential Campaigns,” Rhetoric and Public Affairs 13, no. 1 (2010): 39.

[5] Parry-Giles, “Resisting a ‘Treacherous Piety,’”40.

[6] McGee, “’Not Men, But Measures,” 154.