Stewart Mills for Congress, “In Her Shoes”

  • Ad Title: “In Her Shoes”
  • Ad Sponsor: Friends of Stewart Mills, Inc.
  • Issue of Focus: General Election for Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District
  • Type of Advertisement: Biographical
  • Broadcast Locations/Target Audiences: Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District
  • Dates of Airing: First aired on June 25th, 2014
  • Length: 30 second spot ad
  • Link to Advertisement: http://www.stewartmills.com/new_video_in_her_shoes

Transcript of “In Her Shoes”

(Transcript by Megan Fitzmaurice)

Heather Mills: I’m Heather Mills. My husband Stewart is a guy’s guy. He loves to hunt, and you can’t keep him away from the outdoors.
But, Stewart has a big heart too. Every year he participates in the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event. My husband puts on pink heels to raise money for victims of domestic violence.
It’s one of the strongest things he does. In Congress, Stewart will stand up for what’s right.
Stewart Mills: I’m Stewart Mills, and I approve this message.

Analysis of “In Her Shoes”

Megan Fitzmaurice, University of Maryland

“In Her Shoes” Advertisement Context

Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District is situated in a mostly blue-collar region known as the “iron range,” referring to the area’s dynamic mining industry. Republican Stewart Mills is challenging one-term Democratic incumbent Rick Nolan. Neither candidate faced challengers during the primary election, so their campaign efforts have concentrated on the November 4th general election. The National Journal identified Mills as “The Most Interesting Candidate of the Year,” citing his unconventional hairstyle and relaxed demeanor.[1] He has also been deemed “The Brad Pitt of the Republican Party.”[2] His “In Her Shoes” advertisement was produced as part of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s directive to show their concern for women’s issues.[3] The committee conducted extensive target audience research to help candidates counter accusations that the Party is waging a “war on women.”[4] A Washington Post-ABC News poll from just this year revealed only 33 percent of female voters viewed the Republican Party favorably, while 54 percent of women viewed the Democratic Party favorably.[5] This contrast exemplifies the task at hand for both the GOP and Stewart Mills.

The “In Her Shoes” advertisement not only targets women, but also rural Minnesotans who make up the majority of this District.

Advertisement Content: From Hunting Gear to High Heels

Heather Mills (Stewart’s wife) narrates the entire ad from a kitchen table, giving viewers the impression of a backstage glimpse into the candidate’s private life. The camera positions the viewer as if sitting across the kitchen table from Heather. Viewers feel they have been invited over for tea to hear stories about the Mills family. We often believe a person’s private life reveals their most authentic self.[6] Hence, the ad’s intimate framing primes viewers to interpret the ensuing narrative as an “authentic” portrayal of Stewart’s life. Heather’s testimony also enhances perceptions of Stewart’s civic virtue, as female citizens are traditionally held responsible for cultivating the nation’s moral foundation.[7]

From the ad’s start, Heather’s narrative and the camera’s framing reassure viewers of Stewart’s authentic, frontier persona. Heather’s first words describe Stewart as a “guy’s guy,” while the video moves to a series of three quick frames showing him hunting in the backwoods. The ad both shows and tells viewers of Stewart’s masculine nature, a prevailing characteristic of the frontier hero. First, we see Stewart walking alone through the woods wearing hunting gear and carrying a large shotgun. An aged wooden plaque pops on screen bearing his name. The shot of Stewart as a lone hunter alongside this venerable nameplate visually captures his “rugged individualism,” a key attribute of the frontier hero.[8] Charles U. Larson explains that Americans have long valued “the common-sense wisdom of the backwoods hero,” giving political credence to Stewart’s rugged image.[9] Next, we see Stewart with a hunting group composed of five men, ranging in age from an adolescent boy to an elderly man. Viewing Stewart in the midst of a multigenerational gathering frames him as a candidate in-touch with voters from all stages of life. In short, Stewart is presented as a masculine, rugged, down-to-earth candidate.

Framing Stewart as a “frontier hero” encourages identification between him and his Midwestern constituency. This American archetype depicts a community leader who stands in stark contrast to the traditional politician, valuing individuality, hard work, and resilience—values also seen as “Midwestern.”[10] In this ad, Stewart is the ultimate political outsider—we never see Stewart wearing a suit, giving a speech, or doing anything overtly political. Rural Minnesotans instead see Stewart hunting and hear Heather say, “you can’t keep him away from the outdoors.” Literary theorist Kenneth Burke asserts that this sense of identification is actually the key to effective persuasion.[11] Thus, the persuasive appeal of this ad rests on Stewart’s identification with his target constituency.

The ad’s outdoor scenes also depict Stewart’s “softer side.” The camera zooms in to a close-up side profile of Stewart nodding and listening to one of the other hunters. We glimpse a streak of gray hair tucked behind Stewart’s ear. While some opponents have criticized his youthful image as illustrative of his inexperience, this transculturally recognized symbol of wisdom provides a visual counterargument. Because the camera situates viewers to feel as if they are conversing with Stewart, they are able to envision Stewart listening to and caring about their opinions—a benevolent character trait voters expect in a representative. Shawn J. Parry-Giles explains that close-up portraits have historically served as “barometer[s] of character.”[12] Thus, the intimate camera framing also gives viewers the opportunity to assess Stewart’s authenticity, and recognize his altruism.

Following Stewart’s hunting excursion, Heather gives viewers a different look at his benevolent character through a depiction of his unconventional charity work. The camera turns back to the kitchen, where Heather reveals, “Stewart has a big heart too.” The camera then pans to a set of two photographs showing Stewart wearing a pair of pink, high-heeled shoes. Heather explains: “Every year he participates in the ‘Walk a Mile in Her Shoes’ event. My husband puts on pink heels to raise money for victims of domestic violence.” The photographs are strewn across a wooden table, giving viewers the impression that Heather is showing us old family photos in the kitchen. The picture on the left shows Stewart by himself, “posing” in pink heels with one leg outstretched towards the camera. Striking a traditionally feminine pose portrays Stewart as light-hearted, self-confident, and perhaps even feminine. Depicting him in women’s footwear conveys to viewers that this is a man who cares more about advocating for honorable causes than his own appearance. Stewart does not just “talk the talk,” but he walks the walk, showcasing his empathy and benevolent character. Indeed, such traits further his depiction as a political outsider, and distance him from the anti-woman accusations facing many Republicans.

The apolitical disposition of this advertisement frames Stewart’s concern for women as purely altruistic. Domestic violence is, in some ways, a safe women’s issue. Violence against women is condemned across political parties and religious divides. It is an issue that stirs up outrage more often than controversy. By speaking out against domestic violence, Stewart is able to demonstrate concern for women while avoiding more hot-button issues like abortion. Praising politicians for being apolitical actually stretches back to the nation’s founding, putting Stewart in a long line of statesmen extolled for their nonpartisan concern.[13] Moreover, women hear about Stewart’s activism from another woman, enhancing the credibility of his public advocacy for women.

In the ad’s final two scenes, viewers finally learn about Stewart’s campaign, allowing them to use their knowledge of his frontier mentality, benevolence, and authenticity as a means to judge not only his character, but his worthiness as a candidate. The camera returns to the kitchen table once again, where Heather affirms Stewart’s charity work as “one of the strongest things he does.” We do not hear anything about the campaign until twenty-three seconds into the ad. The camera shifts here—zooming out, and providing a wide-angle shot of Heather as she asserts: “In Congress, Stewart will stand up for what’s right.” Political communication scholars Lynda Lee Kaid and Anne Johnston explain that wide-angle shots work to “make certain aspects of the scene appear more powerful and more distinct,” giving a sense of authority to Heather’s endorsement.[14] The ad comes to a close with Heather, Stewart, and their two children walking through an outdoor autumn scene. We only hear from Stewart when he voices his approval of the message in compliance with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

In short, this ad frames Stewart Mills as pro-Midwestern and pro-women. The use of spousal testimony and intimate camera shots showcase Stewart as an authentic political outsider. As Jon Downs, the ad’s producer, stated: “our goal is for people to see [the ad], and know something about who Stewart is — the real Stewart Mills.”

[1] Josh Kraushaar, “The Most Interesting Candidate of the Year,” National Journal, September 9, 2014, http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/gop-s-brad-pitt-look-alike-has-best-chance-to-defeat-a-dem-20140909.

[2] Nathan L. Gonzales, “Brad Pitt and Minnesota’s 8th District,” Roll Call, June 10, 2013, http://blogs.rollcall.com/rothenblog/brad-pitt-and-minnesotas-8th-district/; Katie Glueck, “The Brad Pitt of the Republican Party,” Politico, June 23, 2014, http://www.politico.com/story/2014/06/2014-minnesota-election-stewart-mills-108199.html; Emily Heil, “Brad Pitt v. Stewart Mills, ‘the GOP’s Brad Pitt,’” The Washington Post, September 10, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/reliable-source/wp/2014/09/10/brad-pitt-v-stewart-mills-the-gops-brad-pitt/.

[3] Glueck, “The Brad Pitt of the Republican Party”; Jackie Kucinich, “NRCC Urges Early Outreach to Women,” The Washington Post, August 18, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/08/18/nrcc-urges-early-outreach-to-women/.

[4] Kucinich, “NRCC Urges Early Outreach to Women.”

[5] “Do You Have a Favorable or Unfavorable Impression of The Republican Party?,” The Washington Post, August 5, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/page/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2014/08/05/National-Politics/Polling/question_14456.xml?uuid=r5iCEhyPEeSbbBLjDL6Gow

[6] Charles Guignon, On Being Authentic, Thinking in Action (New York: Routledge, 2004), 81.

[7] Linda Kerber, “The Republican Mother: Women and the Enlightenment–an American Perspective,” American Quarterly 28, no. 2 (1976): 187–205.

[8] Leroy G. Dorsey, “The Frontier Myth in Presidential Rhetoric: Theodore Roosevelt’s Campaign for Conservation,” Western Journal of Communication 59 (1995): 4.  

[9] Charles Larson, Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2009), 235.

[10] For a more detailed overview of the “Frontier hero,” and its history in American politics, see: Dorsey, “The Frontier Myth in Presidential Rhetoric.”

[11] Kenneth Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives (Berkley: University of California, 1969), 19-27.

[12] Shawn J. Parry-Giles, Hillary Clinton in the News: Gender and Authenticity in American Politics (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014), 78.

[13] Political biographers of early statesmen often praised the politicians for their “disinterest,” meaning their ability to remove themselves from political advocacy and decision-making. See Gordon S. Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different (New York: Penguin Press, 2006), 15–17.

[14] Lynda Lee Kaid and Anne Johnston, Videostyle in Presidential Campaigns: Style and Content of Televised Political Advertising (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2001), 31.