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Bizarre and Big-Ticket Political Ads Flood California Airwaves in Recall Election’s Final Weekend

California Recall Election Political Advertising
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In the final weekend of the California gubernatorial recall campaign, political ads are everywhere. The last push before the voting period ends on Sept. 14 has brought out Democrat A-listers to defend Gov. Gavin Newsom while some of the Republican challengers have turned to shock and outrage to stretch their limited dollars further.

The campaign to defend Gov. Gavin Newsom is spending millions of dollars on ads from a series of prominent Democrats — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and, biggest of all, Barack Obama. The ads note that one of the key funders is Reed Hastings, the Netflix co-CEO who gave $3 million to the support the anti-recall effort. Mail-in ballots and drop-off ballots must be returned and polls will close at 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

The Republican candidates have less money than the incumbent, and so have to work harder to attract attention with their spots. John Cox brought back Tag, the Kodiak bear who has served as a campaign mascot, for an ad that ends with the line: “Does a bear sh*t in the woods?”

The blurb is the handiwork of Fred Davis, the Republican consultant known for bizarro attention-grabbers, most notably the “demon sheep” ad for Senate candidate Carly Fiorina in 2010.

But in this election, the weirdest ads have come from a committee associated with Larry Elder. One in particular, starring Los Angeles resident Brent Gold, has attracted a lot of attention for its opening line.

Brimming with rage, Gold addresses Newsom directly: “You remind me of the guy in high school who took my girlfriend, then went onto the next girl. You still think you’re better than everyone else.”

Said the Washington Post: “There may be no more memorable opening to a political commercial this year.”

When the ad was first posted on Twitter on Wednesday, several commenters suggested that Gold seek therapy.

In an interview with Variety on Thursday, Gold said that the ad-makers actually had to tone down his anger at the governor.

“I would have gone with perhaps stronger wording,” he said. “They wanted to have a calmer presentation.”

Gold is a former drug and alcohol counselor and a longtime listener of Elder’s radio show. He said the “stolen girlfriend” line is based on a true story, but he did not want to go into the details, other than to say it was not in high school.

“It was in college, if I’m not mistaken,” he said. “It was a long time ago. It’s an irrelevancy for me.”

Gold said the point is that he considers Newsom to be an elitist.

“It goes back to the age of lords and kings and queens,” he said. “We’re the peasants. We really don’t matter. We’re just the peasants.”

The ad was created by Arnold Steinberg, Elder’s strategist, who said that he has heard similar sentiments in conversations with other people.

“I think it gets to the visceral feeling of a lot of people about Newsom,” Steinberg said. “He’s one of these rich guys, a good-looking guy. He’s got the money and the privilege, and he’s spoiled. That’s what made its way into that ad.”

Steinberg said that the anti-recall campaign is outspending his effort by 4-to-1, so any social media controversy around the ad is helpful.

“In advertising, any attention you can get outside of paid media is desirable,” he said. “We hope these ads will be shown on newscasts for free.”

The same committee has also produced an ad in which a small dog chases its tail, as the narrator vents frustrations about taxes and homelessness.

“We’re going around in circles! Why are we keeping this guy!?” the narrator shrieks. “STOP!!!”

Steinberg said that ad was produced by David Zucker, the writer-director of “Airplane!”

Newsom has a sizable lead in the most recent polls.