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03/22/2007

Why 2008 won't be like 1964

It's every campaign manager's wet dream: A single, devastating television spot that, overnight, changes the dynamic of the race and makes voters rethink your opponent's viability.

It happened, of course, in 1964, with the infamous "Daisy Girl" ad (above), produced for the Johnson campaign by the legendary Tony Schwartz. The 30-second commercial aired only one time—though everyone seems to remember having watched it—and it effectively torpedoed Barry Goldwater's hopes for the presidency. "Daisy Girl" became the first viral meme of the television era.

The "1984" YouTube ad looked to repeat that political perfect storm

Like "Daisy Girl," it took an opponent's weakness (Goldwater's reckless bellicosity, Clinton's rhetorical banality) and amplified it a hundredfold. What's more, it did so in a way designed to generate weeks of conversation around the water cooler (or the espresso bar).

But—in the fishbowl environment of Web 2.0 politics—2008's version of "Daisy Girl" has generated potentially fatal blowback for its creators.

The Internet video sensation that targeted Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton now has rival Sen. Barack Obama on the spot.

Heralded by many as the embodiment of Web-driven citizen activism, the mysterious YouTube ad now stands revealed as the work of a Democratic operative employed by a consulting firm with Obama links.

"It's true ... yeah, it's me," said Philip de Vellis, a 33-year-old strategist with Blue State Digital, a Washington company that advises Democratic candidates and liberal groups.

Blue State designed Obama's Web site, and one of the firm's founding members, Joe Rospars, took a leave from the company to work as Obama's director of new media.

Obama, Blue State and de Vellis all say de Vellis acted on his own. De Vellis left the company on Wednesday. He said he resigned; Thomas Gensemer, the firm's managing director, said he was fired.

The entire episode hangs a cloud over the Obama camp.

Suddenly the fresh face of 2008—the one Joe Biden infamously described as "clean"—is starting to look like the face of an old pol (and a not-s0-clean one at that).

And that's why 2008 won't be like 1964.

Posted by Rodger on March 22, 2007 at 08:27 AM | Permalink

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