Some elections, candidates smear each other, sling mud and float innuendo. But this year, as days tick away before the Aug. 28 primary, the race for seats in the Alaska Legislature has taken on the flavor of “America’s Got Talent.” Or, maybe just a junior high talent show.
Tune in to AM talk radio on your drive to or from work today. You’ll see what I mean. It’s all keyboard back-beats, pseudo pop licks and cheese-ball rhymes. There are half a dozen jingles circulating at least. Political consultants I talked to this week told me lots of campaigns are getting musical. It’s a trend.
“After doing decades of ‘For strong representation for a better Alaska...’ it’s like yeah, yeah, yeah, no one cares,’” said Kurt Riemann of Surreal Studios, who has recorded hundreds of political ads.
“For some reason a fairly strong musical jingle, to me at least, has a little more memorable touch to someone who might just be a causal voter.”
Sticking to my brain roof right now is a jingle mash-up. First there is East Anchorage Republican Lance Pruitt’s awkward tambourine-shaker, a Partridge Family-style “Lance Pruitt, he will do it, for our future.” Mix in Valley Republican Shelley Hughes’ catchy reggae jam that rhymes Hughes with cho-o-o-ose. Welcome to my headache.
The best part of Hughes' jingle comes in the opening bars when the jingle singer is getting into the beat and goes, “Yeah!” as if he’s performing before a live audience. Instead, he is about to sing such lyrics as, “One thing we want you to remember/when you vote, choose a real freedom defender.”
But then, that’s one of the things that makes a good political jingle: it can’t take itself too seriously. Open dorkiness is part of the trade.
“Anytime anyone has tried to do anything seriously, it’s so easily mocked,” Reimann said. “You have to make it so any line anyone could come up with to mock it is not good as the original jingle.”
Reimann isn’t an expert but he theorized that the root of the most recent jingle craze might have something to do with Paul Honeman’s assembly race a couple of years back, where his jingle was set to the theme for “Rawhide.” That got a lot of attention, he said. It also got immediately stuck in my head as soon as he mentioned it.
“People who have (jingles) seem to win,” said political consultant Ivan Moore, who came up with the Rawhide number.
(Honeman won his assembly seat, but later lost a bid for mayor. Notably, he had no jingle in the mayor’s race.)
Once people in local politics see something that works, they copy it, Moore said. Hence jingle-plosion. It occurred to Moore when he caught Pruitt’s radio ad Tuesday morning that he might have created a monster. Pruitt’s ad, he said, is “ghastly.” But that doesn’t mean it won’t work.
“You’d prefer that it’s not annoying, but frankly speaking in the clutter
of political ad season, sometimes the most annoying things are the ones that get noticed,” he said.
Matt Larkin recently took over the political consulting firm Dittman Research. He is involved with Hughes campaign as well as that of Liz Vasquez, who is running for state Senate in west Anchorage. Vasquez has a television ad that features her riding around on a Segway, with a jingle set to the tune of the country song, “I’ve Been Everywhere” The jingle singer lists, rapid-fire, the names of the streets in her district where the largest number of voters live (“Cranberry, Dewberry, Raspberry...”), a strategy Larkin hopes will catch listeners’ attention. Jingles are like fruit, he said.
“They are perishable, they are tasty, you enjoy them, you can’t run them too long or they go bad.”
Dave Dittman, a retired political consultant who founded Larkin’s firm, told me that a clever jingle causes a physical reaction. When people laugh, it releases pleasure chemicals in the brain.
“It’s almost like cocaine. It feels good and you want to do it again.”
Jingles are also cheap, said political consultant Marc Hellenthal, who is working with Pruitt.
“Normally speaking it takes 5 to 6 airings of an ad before you can recall it,” he said.
Jingles catch on faster, so its takes fewer ads, and fewer dollars, before the candidate name sticks with voters, he said.
There’s a jingle-off going on in the Eagle River house race between Republicans Larry Wood and Lora Reinbold. Wood’s jingle is Grateful Dead-ish, with plucky guitar licks. Reinbold’s is a smoothly-produced pop song with vampy Katy Perry vocals, complete with sexy mini-gasps, set to a Debbie Gibson ‘80s beat.
Adele Morgan, who wrote both it and Hughes’ jingle, said Reinbold’s was inspired by a combination of teenage pop and contemporary worship music. It may be my favorite. It packs so much in! The first line includes the words responsible, dependable, “oh so reliable,” courageous and brave. The complete jingle is a dizzying litany of superlatives.
Republican races are the most musical so far this election go-round. Pete Petersen, running in the same East Anchorage race as Pruitt, is the only Democrat with a jingle, according to the Democratic Party. It’s short and homespun, with just a few guitar strums.
When you get down to it, a jingle is a shrewd political tool that is basically just going for name recognition. That says something cynical about how uneducated voters are. But, as someone who gets paid to pay attention to elections, I welcome the corny songs. I can only hope for more singing as we move into the general election. It’s a little bit like we’re adding a talent competition to our political pageant. Who doesn’t like a talent competition?
Come to think of it, you know what I’d really like to see next: I’d like to see them dance.
To hear all the jingles, click here.