NRCC, AZ-1, “Baggage”

  • Ad Title: “Baggage”
  • Ad Sponsor: National Republican Congressional Committee
  • Issue of Focus: General Election for Arizona’s 1st Congressional District
  • Type of Advertisement: Negative Ad.
  • Broadcast Locations/Target Audiences: Arizona’s 1st Congressional District
  • Dates of Airing: First aired on Sep 1, 2014
  • Length: 30 second spot ad
  • Link to Advertisement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYPfxz0UfV4

 “Baggage” Transcript

Transcript by Megan Fitzmaurice

Voiceover: “When Ann Kirkpatrick comes back from Washington, she carries a lot of baggage—President Obama’s baggage, like her three votes to raise the debt limit.”

Soundbite [Kirkpatrick]: “I’m not going to second guess the president”

Voiceover: “Kirkpatrick refuses to fix Obamacare.”

Soundbite [Kirkpatrick]: “I completely support what the president did with the Affordable Care Act.”

Voiceover: “She’s not independent, she just votes the party line.”

Soundbite [Kirkpatrick]: “I’m not going to second guess the president”

Voiceover: “Ann Kirkpatrick, too much baggage.”

Voiceover: “The National Republican Congressional Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.”

Analysis of “Baggage”

Megan Fitzmaurice, University of Maryland

“Baggage” Advertisement Context

Ann Kirkpatrick is up for re-election to represent Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. This section of rural Arizona touches the suburbs of Tucson and Phoenix, and is home to more Native Americans than any other district in the United States. Republican Andy Tobin is challenging the Democratic Congresswoman in what has become the nation’s fifth most expensive House race.[1] Kirkpatrick represented the District from 2009-2011, but then lost the 2010 election to Republican Paul Gosar. She regained her seat in the 2012 election. Political analysts call this year’s Kirkpatrick-Tobin race a “toss-up.”[2]

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) produced several attack ads featuring Kirkpatrick. One advertisement, “Baggage,” gained national attention for its portrayal of Kirkpatrick. The ad features a disembodied pair of legs in a skirt and high heels pulling a roller suitcase. MSNBC called it “the most sexist ad of the 2014 election cycle.”[3] Kirkpatrick responded to the ad by “tweeting” a picture of herself in cowboy boots and jeans, exclaiming: “Short skirt & high heels? Nope, not me. TV attack ad consultants need some Rural AZ 101.” In “Baggage,” the NRCC employs captions as indictments, uses sound clips to decontextualize Kirkpatrick’s voice, and depicts her as a feminine, headless candidate without a mind of her own. 

“Baggage” Advertisement Analysis

Baggage” uses colorful, bolded captions to draw a parallel between Kirkpatrick’s voting record and President Obama’s policies. This association frames the congresswoman as a follower, not a leader. The entire ad plays out in front of an all-white background, while bright red and blue captions pop out at the viewer. First, an all-caps message tells viewers, “Ann Kirkpatrick voted to raise the debt limit three times.” The ad underscores the link between Kirkpatrick and the growing national deficit by bolding the words “raise,” “debt limit,” and “three times.” The next bright red caption quotes Kirkpatrick saying, “I am not going to second guess the president.” Here, “not” and “second guess” are shown in bold, emphasizing her unquestionable trust in president Obama. Another blue caption accuses Kirkpatrick of “refus[ing] to fix Obamacare.” The ad then quotes Kirkpatrick saying, “I completely support what the president did with the Affordable Care Act.” By following an accusation with a direct quote, the NRCC legitimizes their indictment and lends credibility to the ad’s claim. Kirkpatrick’s holistic support for Obama’s healthcare policies gives viewers the impression she is just another presidential crony. The next caption tells viewers: “Ann Kirkpatrick votes the party line 89% of the time,” strengthening her depiction as a party lemming. The caption works to discredit Kirkpatrick as a legislative leader and instead frames her as a mouthpiece for the Democratic Party. Next, “Baggage” displays the same Kirkpatrick quote from the ad’s opening: “I am not going to second guess the president.” Displaying the same caption at the ad’s opening and closing fortifies the message’s significance. These techniques reflect the theory of “serial position effect,” which suggests that people are more likely to recall the first and last idea they hear in a series of messages.[4] Thus, viewers are prone to remember this quote, reinforcing the image of Kirkpatrick as a presidential lackey.

The captions heighten the credibility of the ad’s claims through their strategic placement and interaction with the ad’s protagonist. Throughout the advertisement, an actress representing Kirkpatrick is seen moving back and forth across the screen with a rolling suitcase. The captions appear to emerge from the bag as she wheels it across the stage, filling in the white space behind her. Thus, the actress appears to be running away from the captions. Moving in the opposite direction of these messages suggests that the congresswoman is ashamed of these indictments or is unwilling to take ownership of her words. This visual disavowal frames the congresswoman as a reluctant witness to her own partisanship, heightening the ad’s truth-value. Further accenting the ad’s credibility, each caption is accompanied by a small citation in a grey font. The citations detail the dates and sources for Kirkpatrick’s voting record. By providing these citations, the NRCC positions their advertisement as a reliable and even objective source of information.  Thus, viewers see these bold accusations and the research behind them.

“Baggage” also includes decontextualized soundbites of Kirkpatrick’s voice, creating the impression that she only speaks out in agreement with President Obama. As the second caption “roll outs,” viewers hear Kirkpatrick say, “I completely support what the president did with the Affordable Care Act.” The quote is from Kirkpatrick’s interview with a Democratic talk radio show in 2011, where she explained: “While I completely support what the president did with the Affordable Care Act, there are some other things that I see a little differently.”[5] Kirkpatrick’s full statement reveals that she has criticized Obama’s healthcare policies, yet viewers are shielded from this information. By quoting Kirkpatrick out of context, the NRCC maintains an image of the congresswoman as a mindless presidential supporter. Viewers also hear Kirkpatrick say, “I’m not going to second guess the president,” at the ad’s start and finish. Listening to the same soundbite twice in a thirty-second period feels like listening to a broken record. Viewers with an active political memory might even recall these same soundbites from an attack ad produced by Kirkpatrick’s opponent in 2010.[6] The ad’s repetition of Kirkpatrick’s voice makes her sound robotic, thereby affirming the congresswoman’s mindless persona.

Amidst the captions and soundbites, the ad features a highly feminine, disembodied representation of Kirkpatrick who is literally featured without a mind of her own. The actress is wearing a short black dress and a pair of black pumps, but we can only see her from the waist down. In Congress Kirkpatrick has become famous for her western clothing, including cowboy boots that represent her frontier persona. Yet in this ad, Kirkpatrick is depicted in fashionable, feminine attire—a wardrobe change that suggests the candidate is more style than substance. Moreover, the actress is wearing high-heels, a form of footwear that highlights female sexuality and impairs women’s mobility. Her delicate appearance suggests that Kirkpatrick is not “sure-footed” enough to make decisions for herself, but is instead fixed on appearances and pleasing others.

The actress’s hurried movements also suggest that Kirkpatrick is more interested in pleasing Obama than passing legislation. When “Baggage” begins, the actress pulls a roller suitcase to her side and bevels her feet in center of the screen. The voiceover exclaims, “When Ann Kirkpatrick comes back from Washington, she carries a lot of baggage—President Obama’s baggage.” This voiceover suggests that Kirkpatrick prioritizes the president’s desires over her district’s needs. As the captions roll and the soundbites play, the actress alternates between strutting and hurrying across the screen. She crosses the screen five times, always rolling her suitcase behind her. As Kirkpatrick races between the captions, it appears as if she is clinging onto Obama’s every word. This back-and-forth motion communicates to viewers that Kirkpatrick is not making progress in Washington, but is just going back and forth and carrying around dead weight. The NRCC pairs this “chase scene” with the soundbites of Kirkpatrick’s unyielding allegiance to Obama, framing her erratic movements as acts of blind obedience. The audience is left to make their own assumptions about Kirkpatrick’s thoughts and facial expressions, as the figure’s head remains completely out of view. By using a headless and hurried figure, the ad demonstrates that Kirkpatrick will follow wherever Obama leads.

Indeed, “Baggage” gives a new meaning to the phrase “out of sight, out of mind.” This advertisement depicts Kirkpatrick as a thoughtless congressional candidate through bold captions, decontextualized sound clips, and a disembodied persona. Demonstrating the salience of these strategies, the NRCC produced another ad targeting the congresswoman just two weeks after “Baggage” first aired. This ad also features a disembodied Kirkpatrick—but this time, the actress is wearing jeans and boots.

Notes

[1] Open Secrets: Center for Responsive Politics, “Most Expensive Races,” https://www.opensecrets.org/overview/topraces.php?cycle=2014&display=currcandsout, accessed October 16, 2014.

[2] The Cook Political Report, “2014 House Race Ratings for October 10, 2014.” http://cookpolitical.com/house/charts/race-ratings, accessed October 16, 2014.

[3] Jane C. Timm, “New GOP Ad Depicts Democratic Woman as a Pair of Legs,” MSNBC, September 4, 2014, http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/gop-ad-oh-no-leggy-democrat, accessed October 16, 2014.

[4] W. Scott Terry, “Serial Position Effects in Recall of Television Commercials,” The Journal of General Psychology 32 (2005): 151-164.

[5] Lauren Gilger and Maria Tomasch, “Fact Check: Republican Attack Ad Against Incumbent Kirkpatrick Called Sexist?” ABC 15 News, September 12, 2014, http://www.abc15.com/news/local-news/investigations/fact-check-republican-attack-ad-against-incumbent-kirkpatrick-called-sexist, accessed October 16, 2014.

[6] Timm, “New GOP Ad Depicts Democratic Woman as a Pair of Legs.”