First in 5th: Perriello campaign ad gets him dirty. Literally.
At first, the television spot looks like standard political fare. Congressman Tom Perriello is talking earnestly into the camera about jobs. Then you notice something a little different as he strolls through a dairy barn.
Is he really stepping into a cow pie? And why is Perriello under a desk stringing broadband cable? And, whoa, while riding in a cop car, he's getting broadsided by a cup of coffee.
The spot ends with a dirt-streaked, coffee-stained Perriello again talking earnestly into the camera: "I'm Tom Perriello, and I support this message because I guarantee no one will work harder to bring jobs to Virginia."
The 5th District Congressional race is one of the most hotly contested re-election races in the country, and it includes hard-hit Southside, which suffered deep unemployment even before Perriello snagged the job away from his predecessor, Republican Virgil Goode, by 727 votes in 2008. So do voters really want to laugh when the job market is so dire?
"They get that the mood of the ad is funny, but the topic is serious," says Perriello campaign manager Lise Clavel, who touts Perriello's record of working hard for the district.
"We don't feel we have to hide behind a negative campaign by going after Hurt so early like he is against us," continues Clavel, pointing to Hurt campaign emails that focus on unseating Perriello, not Hurt's record.
State Senator Hurt, who battled six challengers in the June 8 Republican primary, hasn't launched any television ads yet, but then, he doesn't appear to have a war chest like the one amassed by Perriello. With a district ripped from GOP hands and still riven by constant Tea Party demonstrations, the 5th is viewed as a key national battleground, as well as a litmus test on the Obama presidency. That could help explain the $1.5 million that Perriello has raised.
Hurt campaign manager Sean Harrison declines to discuss Hurt's advertising strategy, but he has a few words on Perriello's.
"While his ad may try to make him look like he's focused on jobs, his record during his time in Congress proves otherwise," says Harrison, mentioning Nancy Pelosi four times in his responses to a reporter's questions, a hint that the Speaker of the House may figure in Hurt's campaign strategy.
The Perriello ad was created by Milwaukee agency Eichenbaum & Associates, which won't comment on it. "We're a regular commercial agency," says partner Neal Bardale. "We don't specialize in political ads as many agencies in Washington do."
During his first run for office two years ago, the firm created spots, including one scolding opponent Goode's portrayal of the Ivy resident as a New Yorker. Perriello blasted the New York rumor with an ad emphasizing humor.
"That's what made his ads particularly effective," says UVA Center for Politics analyst Isaac Wood. "You recognize they don't seem like typical political ads. People want to watch them again, and they'll spread virally."
Still, political dangers can lurk when taking a light-hearted approach in a district with unemployment rates around 15 percent in Danville and over 21 percent in Martinsville–- the highest in the state.
"He has to be careful," says Wood. "He's starting to talk about jobs at a time when the job numbers here in the district are still pretty pitiful."
When the air waves are cluttered with political commercials, advises Wood, it's a good idea to cut through the clutter.
"Politicians are famous for being risk-averse," he says. "Tom Perriello is not risk-averse."