Candidates take all sorts of abuse in campaign ads, but it's not every day that they're likened to menacing, red-eyed demon sheep.
A surreal Web video from Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina making exactly that comparison is taking the Internet by storm this week, becoming one of the most buzzed-about political ads since the presidential election. The video cuts between live and animated footage of docile sheep and images of Fiorina's primary opponent former Representative Tom Campbell, while a voice-over accuses him of being a “FCINO” – a fiscal conservative in name only (a play on “RINO,” or “Republican in name only,” a common rallying cry from conservatives who are unhappy with ideologically suspect members of the GOP). The payoff comes about 2:30 in, when the audience is treated to menacing images of a human—presumably Campbell—dressed as an evil sheep that appears to have clawed its way out of Stephen King's Pet Sematary.
“The demon sheep at the end is meant to be a wolf in sheep's clothing,” she said. “That’s the whole point."
The ad, which has already garnered over 100,000 views on Youtube, is attracting endless mockery on social media sites and from Fiorina's political opponents, with #demonsheep becoming a trending topic on Twitter. One of Fiorina's opponents, Chuck Devore, quickly started a mock Web site, demonsheep.org, asking Californians to stop these “Jawa-like, Terminator-esque, Demon Sheep from taking over California,” while Campbell happily passed the ad along to supporters in a fundraising email.
"This bizarre video is just the latest sign that the Fiorina campaign is in complete meltdown mode,” a spokesman for Campbell, James Fisfis, told The Daily Beast. “Tom Campbell will stick to talking about how to rein in federal spending. We're happy to let Carly Fiorina talk to California voters about demon sheep."
Or is Fiorina's campaign crazy like a fox? A spokeswoman for Fiorina, Julie Soderlund, told The Daily Beast that they were “energized” by the ad's response, citing its YouTube traffic as “a great success” and said that Campbell “played right into our hands” by sending out the video himself. The ad's myriad critics are an asset—helping to spread the word—rather than a hindrance, this argument goes.
“It's been touted as the most genius ad ever all the way down to the worst, but no matter what, people are talking about it and it generates views,” Soderlund said. She added that the viral response to the video was intentional, “though we were surprised how far and wide it went—and very pleased.”
The man behind the Web video is none other than Fred Davis, the Republican ad guru who cooked up John McCain's legendary “Celebrity” ad that juxtaposed Barack Obama with images of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears in 2008.
Don’t be surprised if the Fiorina camp does more in this vein in the weeks ahead.
“We can expect to see equally if not more shocking Web-based ads or videos coming from our campaign moving forward,” Soderlund said.
Critics have suggested that sheep might not be the best metaphor for the ideal sort of Republican—since it typically connotes politicians who march, unthinkingly, in lockstep with their leaders. But Soderlund says the naysayers have it wrong.
“The demon sheep at the end is meant to be a wolf in sheep's clothing,” she said. “That’s the whole point, that he's trying to pass himself off as a purist on fiscal matters while his record suggests the opposite.”
And for those wondering how to pronounce “FCINO” or whether to spell it out in its entirety, the campaign has settled on an official pronunciation.
“It's 'fuh-see-no',” Soderlund said.
Benjamin Sarlin is a reporter for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.