Paul Davis for Governor, “Direction”

  • Title: Direction
  • Sponsor: Paul Davis for Governor
  • Issue of Focus: Governor Brownback’s failed course for Kansas
  • Type of Advertisement: Negative
  • Broadcast Locations: Airtime in Kansas, YouTube
  • Release Date: September 4, 2014
  • Length: 31 seconds
  • Web Address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdhsvnx3rqY
  • Transcript:

    Paul Davis: Hi, I am Paul Davis, a common sense Kansan who likes proven solutions. So I hired Jerry, a professional driver, to demonstrate the direction Governor Brownback’s been taking our state with a historic cut to education, slow job growth, and three Kansas credit rating downgrades in one year. And now Brownback says he’s gonna hit the accelerator on his agenda. I’m Paul Davis. Kansas can do better. Jerry, don’t hit the accelerator.

    Analysis of “Direction”

    Janna Soeder, University of Maryland

    Context

    In the Kansas gubernatorial race, Paul Davis, the Democratic candidate, uses negative advertising to present himself as the better choice than incumbent Governor Sam Brownback. The stress is on Brownback’s inability to govern Kansas in an effective, beneficial way. Davis emphasizes Brownback’s cuts to education funding, the slow job growth, and the bleak economic situation. In July 2014, over 100 influential Republican politicians as well as organizations such as “Republicans for Kansas Values” endorsed Davis, arguing that they needed to disregard partisan interests in order to ensure the best for Kansans.[1] Most polls show Davis in the lead by a few percentage points, demonstrating the uncertain outcome of the election.[2]

    Content

    Governor Brownback stated that he was going to “hit the accelerator” in his potential second term, expressing his intent to continue his programs for job creation and success in education.[3] In this negative advertisement, Davis cites Brownback verbatim and visualizes the car metaphor invoked by the incumbent governor. The advertisement opens with a wide shot of a country dirt road with the shiny green stalks of a corn field shown in the background. After a second, a car speeds by going in a backward direction. Davis is in the passenger seat next to Jerry, his “professional driver.” By adding the twist of going backwards to the metaphor of acceleration, Davis ridicules Brownback and discredits his plans for the future: If Brownback stays, there might be acceleration but the state, like the car, will be going in the wrong direction. The advertisement extends the car metaphor to underline Brownback’s misguided and damaging attempts to govern Kansas, stressing the potential damage he would do during his second term. The car metaphor offers room for Davis to showcase his own calmness as an advantage in leadership qualities, which is emphasized both through shot length and through the arrangement of the scenery.

    The extension of the car metaphor contrasts Davis’ leadership qualities with Brownback’s. The professional driver, Jerry, symbolizes that Davis is smart enough to surround himself with experts. At the same time, Jerry conveniently liberates Davis from the task of driving the car in the wrong direction. Even if making an ironic statement, Davis in the driver’s seat of a car going in the wrong direction would still be an ominous image for the future governor. Davis makes clear that he is in charge when he states: “I hired…” and “Jerry, don’t hit the accelerator.” In this scenario, Davis both creates employment opportunities and serves as a boss who gives commands. These leadership qualities are supplemented by an emphasis on Davis’ calm character.

    Davis’ calmness is underlined by the advertisement’s slow pace, which is created through shot length and cutting frequency. The advertisement features only six shots in thirty-one seconds. With two and three seconds, the opening and closing shots of the dirt road are the shortest. The four long shots feature Davis’ main message, namely that Brownback will accelerate a wrong course for Kansas. Davis addresses the viewers directly through the open car window in a medium close up shot with Jerry in the background in three of the shots. The “talking head shot” from the shoulders up is one of the most used shots in political advertising, inspiring feelings of trust and proximity in the audience.[4] This further underlines Davis’ suitability for the governor role. The camera cuts back to the countryside and pans down the road, following the car, when Davis announces that Jerry is going backwards “in order to demonstrate the direction that Governor Brownback has been taking our state.” The slowness of the shifts from frame to frame combine with the static camera position to offset the reckless acceleration that Brownback is proposing for Kansas. The relative absence of cuts also creates a sense of authenticity, since it suggests natural and spontaneous rather than edited speech. Furthermore, the slow pace suggests that Davis is not going to make hasty decisions. Instead, the slowness suggests Davis will be thoughtful and deliberative when making decisions that are in the best interest of Kansas.

    This calmness as well as the centrality of the car metaphor are underlined by the arrangement of the scenery, which creates tidy and clear lines. Shot length and camera angles are tools to focus the viewers’ attention.[5] The aforementioned slow cuts give the viewers time to take in the straight Kansas dirt road running along a cornfield on a sunny summer day, which creates a visual parallel to the even tops of the corn plants. The only things that move are the car and the dust it stirs. The clarity of the imagery focuses the viewers’ gaze on the car and, thus, on the metaphor. At the same time, it emphasizes the tranquility and calmness achieved with the slow pacing mentioned above. Like the pace, the clear scenery creates an opposite to the hectic acceleration that Brownback suggests for the future. Kansas, Davis is suggesting, is pleasant and wealthy: It is sunny and it is summer, the corn is growing abundantly, the sky is very blue. There is no reason why the state should not fare better – except for Brownback, who is taking the state in the wrong direction.

    Instead of using gloomy images of an apocalyptical present under Brownback’s leadership, Davis opts for the lighthearted irony of the car metaphor. It offers a way for Davis to discredit his opponent while showing off his qualities as the future governor.

    Response

    In a gubernatorial debate at the Kansas State Fair on September 4th, two days after the ad was released, Davis said that Brownback intended to “hit the accelerator on a failed economic experiment.”[6] By invoking the language and the imagery of the advertisement, he again expressed the gist of the advertisement clearly. The same is true for the advertisement “Facts,” released on September 29th. Summarizing “the failed Brownback Experiment,” a clip shows Brownback saying the phrase “hit the accelerator on what we’re doing.” Much more somber in tone, this advertisement calls out Brownback for “negative attacks on Paul Davis” while claiming that for Davis “it’s about the facts.” The irony of course is that Davis is critiquing Brownback for his negative ads through a negative ad produced by the Davis campaign.

    Notes

    [1] D. Willis (July 30, 2013). “Kansas Democrats Turn to Data in Governor’s Race,” New York Times, July 30, 2013 (Retrieved from http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/07/31/upshot/kansas-democrats-turn-to-data-in-governors-race.html?_r=0).

    [2] FiveThirtyEight,  “Governors’ Races Are Close, But There’s more Upside for Democrats,.” July 17, 2014 ( Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20140730195929/http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/governors-races-are-close-but-theres-more-upside-for-democrats/; Governing, “2014 Governors Races: A Look at the Too-Close-to-Call Contests,” March 6, 2014,  (Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20140730195814/http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-2014-governors-races-look-too-close-call-contests.html); and University of Virginia Center for Politics, “2014 Governor,” (Accessed October 5, 2014 ( Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20140730195705/http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/2014-governor/

    [3] The Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd,. MSNBC, July 9, 2014 (Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GYe34jRcj0).

    [4] Lynda Lee Kaid and Anne Johnston (2001). Videostyle in Presidential Campaigns: Style and Content of Televised Political Advertising (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001), 92.

    [5] Kaid and Johnston, Videostyle in Presidential Campaigns, 92. See also: Frank Biocca,  Television and Political Advertising: Volume II: Signs, Codes, and Images (New York: Routledge, 2014). 4.

    [6] “Kansas Gubernatorial Debate,” C-Span, September 6, 2014 (Retrieved from http://www.c-span.org/video/?321463-1/kansas-governors-debate).