With just 32 days left until the California June 7 primary election, the airwaves are already saturated with TV ads of four candidates running to represent the 24th Congressional District.
Three weeks ago, Democrat Salud Carbajal — who had a whopping $1 million cash on hand in the latest three-month campaign finance reporting period — released a TV ad juxtaposing himself against Donald Trump. “ … That’s not how we do things on the Central Coast,” he says after a very short clip of Trump proclaiming “What a stiff” and “I’d like to punch him in the face.” Carbajal continues, “We stand up to intolerance, and we give everyone a voice.”
Carbajal, serving in the nonpartisan seat of county supervisor for nearly 12 years, distanced himself from the Republican presidential hopeful known for his offensive tirades. “I think a lot of Democrats don’t like Trump and a lot of not-Democrats don’t like Trump,” said Bill Carrick, Congressmember Lois Capps’s longtime media consultant, who is currently working on Loretta Sanchez’s Senate race.
In another ad, Carbajal is shown chopping vegetables with his kids, walking along the beach with his wife, and talking with Planned Parenthood supporters. The ad appears to function as general (his location is not clear), introductory, and is seemingly innocuous. But his chief Democratic rival, Santa Barbara’s Mayor Helene Schneider, objected to it and held a press conference within days of its debut. She claimed the commercial painted an overly rosy picture of county finances, an accusation Carbajal dismissed, calling the media event “disappointing.” Meanwhile, supporters of Schneider, who worked at Planned Parenthood for more than a decade, cried foul because the Planned Parenthood Action Fund opted to not endorse either pro-choice candidate in the race.
Since then, Carbajal has released two more ads that are more specific. One features a photo of him when he was in the Marine Corps Reserve from 1984-1992. In a voiceover, Carbajal says, “I wanted to join the Marine Corps to give back and serve my country.” His fourth ad shows three young people talking about college debt, with Carbajal’s voiceover: “When I went to UCSB, a working-class kid like me could afford college.” In public settings, Carbajal often speaks about his “working class” upbringing.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has weighed into the race big time, according to Politico.com, buying up $136,000 worth of airtime over the next two weeks on behalf of Carbajal. The ads, already up, talk a little tougher than Carbajal’s own. They show all the obligatory sweeping vistas of Santa Barbara beaches, but instead of touting Carbajal’s prowess for “reaching across the aisle” — as his own ads do — they extoll his leadership in “standing up” to Big Oil and developers. The Carbajal campaign has sought to rally the faithful by raising the specter of a two-Republican runoff in November — Justin Fareed versus Katcho Achadjian. For some party regulars, that doomsday scenario seems a little far-fetched, particularly since Trump has been proclaimed the presumed nominee for the Republican Party. Trump’s unpopularity and the lack of a top-of-the-ticket showdown has robbed the Republican primary of much drama or urgency. Regardless, the DCCC isn’t taking any chances, as evidenced by its big dollar-purchase of the local airwaves.
Helene Schneider, meanwhile, unveiled a high-energy ad highlighting a few key Santa Barbara issues she names as achievements — saving the city’s parking lots, fighting against the controversial Highway 101 widening project, and restarting the desalination plant. “ … I started my campaign for Congress in the garage,” she says with a big smile, “because I believe in going to the people to get things done.” She also jumps into the ocean wearing a pants suit next to volunteers sitting at a card table, as waves roll over them.
At times, Schneider has highlighted the fact she is the only woman in the race: She says at the end of her 32-second ad: “Equal pay and the right to choose are not negotiable.” In the last reporting period, Schneider had a quarter of a million dollars on hand.
Despite the surge in online programming, such as Netflix and Hulu, broadcast and cable television ads remain crucial for candidates and corporations. “It just reaches more people at once than anything else,” Carrick said. National advertisers such as Coca-Cola, he noted, still spend about 80-85 percent of their advertising budget on television TV and cable.
Social media has advantages — precisely targeting an audience, such as young people. But, Carrick noted, the electorate tends to be older. He added, though, “The Bernie phenomena raises the question of what’s the mix?”
Katcho Achadjian and Justin Fareed have also released an ad. “It’s relatively inexpensive to get on TV in 24th Congressional District,” Carrick explained. “In Los Angeles, of course, you have 25 Congress people in the media market; none of them can afford to buy much TV time ever.” It costs about $1.2 million to “penetrate consciousness” in the L.A. media market, he said, while a similar TV ad on the Central Coast costs about $50,000.
Fareed — a Republican who ran in 2014 and has $400,000 cash on hand — has unveiled two ads. The first shows an older woman saying, “Same old, same old politicians, running for Lois Capps’ congressional seat,” followed by short clips of a few younger people saying, “Isn’t there somebody new?” “Maybe somebody young?” “Someone who can’t be bought.” Then a middle-aged woman asks, “Met Justin Fareed?” while text of the same phrase appears on screen.
His second ad demonstrates a metaphor he’s used before: “You fix the pipe before you clean up the puddle, right?” he asks, standing next to a leaky pipe in a cinderblock room. “Not politicians. Take immigration … secure the border and then we’ll talk. I’m the only one running who’s not a politician.”
Of all the ads, Fareed’s have the most immediately recognizable images. In his spots, viewers see the candidate riding a horse every which way and the equine-flavored inconography is what pops and what sticks. This is reminiscent of his ad campaign from his previous congressional bid in which Fareed — a former football player — was displayed running all over the county with a football tucked snugly under his arm. While highly lampooned, that ad proved memorable in the extreme. This one could as well.
Though he is a politician, Republican Katcho Achadjian, who represents San Luis Obispo in the State Assembly and served three terms as a county supervisor, similarly ran an ad that painted himself as an outsider. A narrator says: “We don’t send people to Washington to fit right in. We want them to speak out to do their job.”
Among the other five congressional candidates — William Ostrander, John Uebersax, Matt Kokkonen, Benjamin Lucas, and Steve Isakson — only Ostrander has released a video ad, which has run at Breitbart.com, a conservative website.