The first campaign ads in Governor Nathan Deal’s bid for reelection have appeared, more than a year before voters go to the polls.
Don’t look for them on television, though.
A couple weeks ago I was at home watching YouTube videos, and I started to notice that virtually everything I clicked on was preceded by one of these ads.
"The HOPE scholarship is critical for Georgians. Over a million kids received the education they deserved, because Governor Deal, along with Republicans and Democrats, saved the HOPE Scholarship," says a middle aged school teacher (or an actress playing one) in one of the 15 second spots.
I ran these by Mark Rountree, a Republican political consultant in Alpharetta who hadn't seen the ads before.
"Ah, so they’re targeting women voters and Adam," Rountree said, referring to the fact that YouTube ads are targeted based on the viewer's IP address.
"They know exactly where you are in Macon, they know probably exactly who you are," he said.
And who am I? A 31-year-old guy living near the center of a Democratic-leaning city with lots colleges and universities around. Hence, this line from the ad: "Governor Deal, along with Republicans and Democrats, saved the HOPE Scholarship."
"There’s an obvious early message on bipartisanship," Rountree said.
Rountree figures this ad is basically saying: “Nathan Deal might be a Republican, but he’s not like those Republicans in Washington who helped shut down the government.”
"And I think the ads actually accomplish that," Rountree said. "I don’t know that they’re giving Democrats credit, I think they’re more saying it took leadership by this Governor to bring the parties together."
These ads are being paid for by REAL PAC, a purportedly independent committee aligned with the Governor that can solicit unlimited contributions as long as they don’t directly coordinate their efforts with Deal or his staff.
The fact that REAL PAC is running these bipartisan-flavored ads now—in the primary stage—tells us something, Rountree said. If Deal perceived any real threat from his Republican challengers, the message would be staunchly partisan and aimed at conservative voters, he said.
The ads might, however, betray the Deal camp’s actual anxieties going into 2014.
"We worked together to pass structurally balanced budgets," intones Deal in one of the 30 second spots. Actually, he's not in the ad, per se. We're seeing a middle aged blonde woman in her kitchen, and she’s watching Deal give a speech on her iPad.
[NOTE OF DISCLOSURE: The image of Gov. Deal in this ad appears to be from GPB's television broadcast of the 2013 State of the State address, and includes GPB's broadcast logo. GPB did not coordinate with REAL PAC to provide this imagery.]
The ad then reveals that the woman is Republican state House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones. "Working together, we’ve increased Georgia’s rainy day fund 226 percent," she says.
I showed this one to Mercer University political scientist Chris Grant, who said there's a good reason why Jones is featured.
"Working women of middle age going to be really important in the next election," Grant said. "You certainly are going to have the Democrats with a woman running for the U.S. Senate, Michelle Nunn."
I asked Grant: what does the race to succeed Georgia's Saxby Chambliss in D.C. have to do with the Governor's race back home? "The top race is going to be the Governor’s race, but the hot race is going to be the Senate race," he said.
"This looks like the best chance in the United States for the Democrats to pick up a U.S. Senate seat at this point. If the Democrats are that motivated, and they all come out, this could have an effect of, instead of the coattails pulling from the Governor’s office into the Senate race, it could be the reverse," Grant said.
Thus, Grant said, Deal’s priority is going to be appealing to the kind of people who are likely to turn out for Michelle Nunn (assuming she gets the nomination) — middle aged female liberals and moderates.
Lots of nationwide polls indicate that’s a tough crowd for Republicans right now.