U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu must like being on TV. That's the only reason she would have her campaign produce a TV commercial about her appearing on television. You only see Landrieu, the actual woman, untelevised during the first three seconds of the 1:02 spot, long enough for her voiceover to state "I approve this message."
For the other 59 seconds, the New Orleans Democrat is depicted as a political Max Headroom. Displayed on a variety of monitors and TV sets, she appears in news clips slamming the Obama Administration over oil and gas policies as concerned constituents watch.
First there's a couple washing dishes in a kitchen and watching their countertop TV set. Then there's a father watching TV as he helps his toddler get dressed in the morning, followed by people watching Landrieu on TV in a diner and perhaps a bar. A group of guys in a machine shop or garage are glued to their sets. All the while, Landrieu makes tough-looking faces and dishes up stern words to those in D.C. who don't understand how important energy is to Louisiana.
The "Will Not Rest" ad, launched around April 15, represents an opening salvo of sorts, the first assault in Landrieu's $2.6 million media buy that was reserved earlier this month. Time will tell if it wins votes for her, but Landrieu's opposition wasted no time shooting back.
Conservatives allege she staged committee debates and news coverage in the ad. The web buzzed with frame-by-frame breakdowns pointing out everything from the fonts used on the committee nameplates to the "actors" who surrounded Landrieu during the allegedly dramatized hearings.
Another TV spot bankrolled by Keep Louisiana Working, a GOP "dark money" group, has picked up on those themes, stating, "Mary's an actress, too," repeating the GOP's favorite meme — that she supports President Barack Obama 97 percent of the time. That mantra is what her "Will Not Rest" ad was designed to offset.
The GOP-aligned OnMessage consulting firm and its Louisiana partner Timmy Teepell — Gov. Bobby Jindal's chief political strategist — produced the "actress" commercial slamming Landrieu. The Landrieu campaign countered that her ad was from a "real hearing" that was broadcast on WWL-TV in New Orleans.
Ann Porter of Slidell, one of the so-called actors in the Landrieu ad, wrote on her Facebook page that she was more a "volunteer" and an "extra." Porter sits behind Landrieu in one scene, where an aide might be positioned. "All I had to do was sit there and scribble," she wrote on her Facebook feed. "The Senator had the hard job."
The production criticisms, however, overlook the real weakness of Landrieu's "Will Not Rest" ad. The commercial makes the senator look as though her only relationship with Louisiana voters is through broadcast media. It gives her campaign a disconnected feeling at a time when she should be returning to the fundamentals of grassroots campaigning.
While Landrieu arguably has the most government and leadership experience and the most to offer Louisiana politically as the Senate energy chair, her polling numbers haven't bounced (or dropped).
Supporters feel good about a New York Times/Kaiser Family poll from mid-April showing Landrieu leading the primary field with 42 percent — more than her opponents combined. Congressman Bill Cassidy follows with 18 percent, state Rep. Paul Hollis 5 percent and Rob Maness 4 percent.
Other polls show Landrieu holding firm and Cassidy gaining more ground: an American Crossroads survey from earlier this month had Landrieu at 40 percent and Cassidy at 35 percent in the primary field, while Magellan Strategies' March poll had Landrieu with 39 percent to Cassidy's 26 percent.
This far out from the election, it's all over the map. The New York Times produced a statistical forecasting model last week predicting the GOP would capture Landrieu's seat. Meanwhile, other outlets, including The Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, declare the race a tossup.
Landrieu has won tough races before, but campaigning from an ivory tower on the Hill, rather than focusing on the retail politics Louisiana voters love, won't help her. Maybe that's why there has been such a huge reaction to the return of former Gov. Edwin Edwards, the king of shaking hands and kissing babies.
That's not to say Landrieu should mimic Edwards. She should, however, step outside The Matrix. To transpose a famous quote from the 1999 sci-fi movie, you should never send a machine to do a human's job.