The oeuvre of political advertising — and let’s, for a moment, let that affectation slide by — includes a number of reliable standbys.
There is the homey and heart-warming family montage, intended to humanize a candidate; the employment of a female voiceover, to try to make a harsh attack ad seem less so; the use of grainy, black-and-white footage, often unspooled in slow motion, to make an adversary appear more sinister.
Then, of course, there is the unflattering photo, meant, presumably, to appeal to voters on a more subliminal level, when appeals to reason —He’ll open the prison gates and let criminals loose! She’ll slash programs and leave grandma starving to death in the dark! — fail to work.
On Wednesday, the conservative group Americans for Prosperity was forced to apologize and retract a TV ad in Colorado that used a photograph of a grim-faced Democratic Sen. Mark Udall standing alongside a tense President Obama. It’s a common trope this election season, as Republicans and their allies do all they can to yoke Democratic hopefuls to a president of middling popularity.
The spot blamed Udall for cancellation of nearly 335,000 health insurance policies in Colorado under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, the blame-laying being the second element in the GOP's election season one-two punch.
The problem is the photograph was taken two days after the July 2012 mass shootings at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, when Udall and Obama visited a hospital to console the injured and families of the victims. Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was also on the scene, was cropped out of the advertisement.
Several families of the victims were quick to condemn the use of the photo, calling it “an utter disgrace.”
“To insinuate the somber expressions were for anything other than their compassionate response to our heartbreak is beyond unconscionable,” the families said in a written statement.
Americans for Prosperity quickly removed the photograph and apologized to the families, replacing the offending shot with another photo of the senator and the president — shown in a ghoulish shade as a female narrator criticizes Udall for his healthcare vote.
The Democrat faces a potentially tough reelection fight against Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, a critic of the healthcare law, in a race that has heightened GOP hopes of winning control of the Senate in November.
In a statement, Gardner decried the use of the post-Aurora shooting photo as “insensitive and wrong” and said he was pleased that it was removed.