Senate candidate's ads feature bathroom, bar, swearing

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Jim Leute
October 7, 2014

JANESVILLE—State Senate candidate Brian Fitzgerald says he wanted to do something different in marketing himself to voters.

He's done that with a pair of video ads that are airing on network and cable television stations.

A couple of others were shot Monday, and still more ads are planned for a variety of social media sites.

“The idea was to get some attention,” said the Janesville Republican who is running against Democratic Rep. Janis Ringhand for the seat being vacated by Tim Cullen, D-Janesville.

“It's hard to gain traction in a political campaign with a limited budget.”

Both ads in circulation were shot at O'Riley and Conway's Irish Pub in downtown Janesville.

“Why not O'Riley's?” Fitzgerald said. “We're in Wisconsin, and people spend time in bars.

“I didn't want to do the kids sitting by the fire and all that other boring stuff you typically see in campaign ads.”

It would be hard to describe Fitzgerald's ads as “boring.”

In the first, a bartender asks: “What'll ya have, Fitz?”

Fitzgerald walks away and says: “I've had enough. Politics as usual makes me wanna toss my cookies. The average voter thinks most politicians are full of [bleep]. But it's not about the politicians. It's about the economy. It's about the bleepin' jobs.”

The second—which Fitzgerald said is his favorite—opens with him emerging from the bar's bathroom as a toilet flushes behind him.

“That's what I do with advice from political advisers who think I should sound more like a professional politician,” Fitzgerald says as he points back toward the flushing toilet.

“I'd give that a minute, son,” he then warns a young man walking toward the bathroom.

Fitzgerald, also a member of the Janesville City Council, then walks through the bar and says: “… If you're just trying to make a decent living in today's economy, you don't care about hearing a bunch of [bleep] from some political blowhard.

“That's not going to pay the bills.”

Ringhand said she has not seen the first ad on TV, but she has seen the YouTube version.

“I agree the ad is different,” she said. “(I'm) not sure what to make of it.”

Both Fitzgerald and Ringhand said television advertising is unusual for statehouse races outside of major metro areas.

A check of WisPolitics.com's AdWatch shows television commercials from four other state Senate candidates running in three different districts.

Charles Franklin is a professor of law and public policy at Marquette University and the director of the Marquette Law School Poll.

He said TV ads are typically rare in state Senate campaigns. The exception, he said, is an occasional race that's hotly contested.

Senate and Assembly campaigns rarely have the budget for television advertising, he said.

“Cable now provides an attractive alternative on cost and on targeting grounds, and, if production costs are low enough, that opens the door,” Franklin said in an email. “Videos posted to the campaign website or YouTube and social media provide another relatively inexpensive way to reach voters.”

In addition to the higher costs of broadcast television ads, the station's market rarely aligns geographically with relatively small Senate districts, he said.

That means campaigns must buy ad time that is priced on a significant number of potential voters who live outside the candidate's district.

Ringhand said she is not planning any TV ads.

“It is out of my financial realm,” she said in an email. “… I hope it does not become a trend, most candidates cannot afford to go that route.”

Fitzgerald said his ads have a few runs on WKOW in Madison.

Most are on cable channels and online, he said, adding that cable TV spots can run from $1 to $50 depending on the channel and the time they're aired.

Fitzgerald is planning more video commercials, which he said will probably be “toned down.”

His brother, a documentary filmmaker from Colorado, produced the first two, plus a third that hasn't aired yet.

“We're trying to be as effective as we can gaining attention on a limited budget,” Fitzgerald said. “We were going for something different. Most people just don't like politicians, and I really don't want to be one.”

Ad 1: "What'll ya have Fitz?" (0:30)
Ad 2: Professional politician? (0:30)

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