ELECTION 2016 | In the East Bay recently, two major campaigns felt the sting of similar negative television ads. Both used stand-ins to portray the challenger and both attempted to describe their alleged ties to powerful special interests groups. While 17th Congressional District candidate Ro Khanna was light-heartily tweaked by Rep. Mike Honda’s campaign by tying him to Wall Street billionaires, a web ad in the equally-contested 16th Assembly District from Republican Assemblymember Catharine Baker darkly paints Democratic candidate Cheryl Cook-Kallio as beholden to Sacramento lobbyists. (The connection goes further, Khanna and Cook-Kallio are long-time friends and political acquaintances.) Here’s a look at both commercials:

CA-17: Rep. Mike Honda, Ro Khanna.

HONDA’S ‘SPEED DIAL’ Khanna said this ad contains “racial innuendo,” but it’s hard to locate the specific offense. Khanna appeared to suggest the use of South Asian actor was racist. It might have been deemed offensive if Honda had a Caucasian actor portray Khanna, too, in light of the dearth of minorities in Hollywood. Khanna then suggested the portrayal of an Indian American as wealthy was a stereotype. Meanwhile, the approach in this ad is clearly playful. From the bouncy music to the comical lines the actor uses to greet his supposed Wall Street suitors this ad is breezy, but upon second and third viewings, it is loaded with information. Maybe too much for passive television watchers, but there, nonetheless, and includes references to Khanna’s large number of Wall Street donors and a previous comment he made about lowering corporate taxes to repatriate overseas profits to the U.S.. Conversely, the tone might be off-putting to some independent voters who believe the campaign should stick to the issues and not devolve to the point an incumbent congressman’s ad depicts his challenger as sitting in a limo, saying, “Yo” and “Whatcha you need?” But we’re also smack in the middle of the period when television viewers are being bombarded by dry, often obtuse political commercials, especially those for and against state and local initiatives. In this vein, Honda’s commercial might elicit a little smirk and stand out a bit from the monotony of political ads.

AD-16: Assemblymember Catharine Baker,
Cheryl Cook-Kallio.

BAKER’S ‘SECRETS’ Baker’s re-election campaign is trying to foment doubt in the minds of 16th District’s large pool of moderate voters with an opposition website that attempts, in part, to dupe web surfers searching for information on Democratic challenger Cheryl Cook-Kallio to instead visit CherylCookKallio.net. The candidate’s official campaign website is votecookkallio.com. But, the site purchased by the Baker campaign contains only a 30-second video that claims Cook-Kallio made secret deals with Sacramento insiders to fund her campaign against Baker. The theme of the video is powerful and rooted in some truth, but only to those naive to how people are unfortunately elected to the state Legislature. But for an ad to be effective, it needs to enforce a sneaking suspicion among voters. It’s not clear whether the Baker campaign has consistently fed this claim about Cook-Kallio to voters. However, voters in the district that covers the Tri Valley in Alameda County and Contra Costa County are a smart electorate. Just ask them for yourself. Specifically, this ad is a riff on secret union questionnaires. That’s a dog whistle for moderate and conservative voters and leftover red meat from the BART union strikes of years past. However, the execution is almost corny, including an actress who vaguely looks like Cook-Kallio and lifeless dialogue from so-called special interests. “This is good. Real good. I think we can help.” says the actor playing a lobbyist as Cook-Kallio hands him the supposed written promises. In some ways, though, it’s more effective than Honda’s hit on Khanna. It feels ominous and the single scene is focused on one scene, There’s no quick edits like the Honda ad. This commercial could be an earworm for viewers, building and creating doubt in voters minds. But for that to happen, it needs to be run repeatedly. And that costs a lot of money.