Republicans have high hopes for the Rust Belt this year: unemployment in the dying manufacturing states has stoked voter anger, while Democratic initiatives to cap the greenhouse-gas emissions causing climate change could raise utility bills in the region.
But it's hard to cater to voters' economic anxieties when your agenda is focused on tax cuts for the rich and your candidates are the guys who would reap the big benefits from said tax cuts. Such is the challenge facing the party in West Virginia, where the party nominated John Raese, who runs a steel and limestone company, to the Senate, and in Ohio, where GOP nominee John Kasich served as a managing director of Lehman Brothers until its dissolution in 2008.
What's the way around this conundrum? Get real authentic blue-collar locals to make your pitch for you. And that's what Republicans have done.
The only problem? Instead of using acutal locals they hired out of state professional actors. Politico's Mike Allen reports, "A Republican ad that shows a couple of regular-looking guys commiserating in a diner about West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) turns out to have been shot with actors, from a script, in Philadelphia." And the casting call, which Allen obtained from Democrats, reads exactly how you would imagine a cynical advertising executive talks about the voters he condescendingly panders to for a living. “We are going for a ‘Hicky’ Blue Collar look. These characters are from West Virginia so think coal miner/trucker looks.”
In Ohio John Kasich made an ad featuring a glowering steelworker declaiming on the factory floor that Gov. Ted Strickland must be unseated because of Ohio's job losses. It turns out that the steelworker is Chip Redden, a stage and screen actor, originally from Fairbanks, Alaska.
Democrats are gleefully seizing on these stories, boasting to Allen that it will help them paint Raese as an out of touch plutocrat and cutting their own ad intersplicing Redden's other performances with his star turn as a typical Ohioan.
It's all in good fun for the Democrats to mock these ads, but the truth is that it's just counter-theatrics. The real question is who has better solutions for these struggling states, and the answer could not be found in these commercials even if they got sixth-generation residents in plaid flannels to mouth their partisan platitudes.
Kasich's ad blames Strickland's tax policies for Ohio's job losses, a preposterous notion to anyone with a passing familiarity with what has happened in the national economy in the past couple years and in the past four decades of industrial decline in the midwest. (Kasich, of all people, should realize this: his job in Lehman Brothers' Columbus office is one of the 400,000 Ohio has lost, and local tax rates had nothing to do with it.) On the other hand, Ohio's economic predicament is real, and Democrats poking fun at their opponents for using actors is no substitute for a set of policies that could help the local economy. (And no, Gov. Strickland, blaming Kasich for sending Ohio jobs overseas by voting for NAFTA is not the same as having an agenda for Ohio in a global economy. Nor is it entirely accurate, according to Politifact.)
But the funniest, and most intellectually incoherent, element of an economy-focused ad in the Ohio race seems to have thus far escaped notice. In one Kasich commercial, he demonstrates his empathetic bona fides for laid-off DHL workers by recalling: "My father carried mail. It was very, very tough. But the job was something people could count on for a lifetime." Hmm, now why is it that Kasich's father could count on his job not being outsourced or eliminated? Well, because it was a union job working for the federal government. Is that really the approach to job creation that an anti-spending, pro-free trade Republican wants to endorse? Or did he just make his opponents' case for him? As Kasich says, "It's about jobs. ...Together if we push and pull, we can get it done." Get what done, exactly? Create more unionized federal government jobs? Sounds kind of socialist, doesn't it?