Opinion: Barack Obama thinks it’s time for his close-up

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It will be hard to avoid Barack Obama tonight.

The Democratic presidential candidate will reign over 30 minutes of prime time on five major television networks, beginning at 8 p.m. PST. As we pointed out last week, not everyone is happy about that.

The ad, which the Obama campaign is calling ‘Barack Obama: American Stories, American Solutions,’ will air on NBC, CBS, FOX, BET and Univision. It will air on MSNBC at 5 p.m. PST.


The campaign has just released a one-minute preview of the ad (which you can watch after the jump) and hinted that there will be also be a “live component.” In a statement released Tuesday Obama spokesman Bill Burton said that the ad would make “the same case our campaign is making on the phone, on doorsteps and in our conservations with voters every day.”

So, then, what’s the point?

Well, there are several, according to David Schwartz, a campaign commercial expert who is the brain behind The Living Room Candidate, an online archive of presidential campaign commercials from 1952-2008. (We talked to Schwartz last week for our look back at the campaign ads of this presidential cycle).

“It shows the incredible advantage . . . .

. . . he has financially,” Schwartz said. And perhaps more importantly, “It means he’s going to be controlling the media for that day.”

Schwartz predicted that tonight’s commercial would follow the pattern of Obama’s previous advertisements, many of which have aimed simply to make Americans feel comfortable with the candidate and to make sure the public understands his basic platform.

“Obama has spent a lot of money on these very straightforward, positive ads,” Schwartz said. “Some of (them) seem a little bit dull -– like about healthcare. They’re not thrilling, but these nuts and bolts ads seem to be working.”

Although the ad has gotten a lot of attention, campaign commercials of this nature are not unprecedented. “It’s actually kind of a throwback,” Schwartz said. “It used to be that candidates would buy 30 minutes of television on the eve of the election.”

Democrat Adlai Stevenson, who ran for president against Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, bought 18 blocks of 30 minutes of airtime during the campaign. Stevenson, like Obama, was known for his eloquence (he won the Democratic nomination on the strength of his keynote speech at the national convention). Eisenhower, like Obama’s opponent John McCain, was a war hero. Eisenhower beat Stevenson in a landslide.

For the sake of those Americans who tune in to Obama’s ad tonight, we hope that it will be more sophisticated that the ones Stevenson ran. According to The Living Room Candidate, they “were little more than illustrated radio spots.”

If you’d like to see a less-scripted Obama, you can catch him tonight on ABC World News with Charlie Gibson, as well as “The Daily Show with John Stewart’ on Comedy Central.

-- Kate Linthicum