Gubernatorial candidate Tim James’ ad ignites Alabama GOP primary
(This video is no longer available on YouTube.)
It dropped like a bomb on the Alabama political landscape, exploded across the Internet and raised a national ruckus over a governor’s race that until now had scarcely drawn a yawn from many state voters.
All in a day’s work for Fred Davis, the Hollywood guru behind Tim James’ “Language” advertisement, which has been viewed more than 1.2 million times — and counting — on YouTube, AOL and Yahoo Web sites.
“One can always hope, and for sure I knew there could be some controversy, but you never expect this,” said Davis, the creative consultant who wrote and produced the ad.
The 30-second spot features James saying that, as governor, he’d end the state’s practice of offering driver’s license exams in more than a dozen languages.
“This is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it,” James says in his Alabama drawl. “We’re only giving that test in English, if I’m governor.”
The ad is one of a series in James’ “Common Sense” campaign theme, and was launched on TV networks statewide April 19. The fireworks arrived immediately.
“The ethnic coding in the ad is unmistakable, especially because it’s not the type of thing that voters in Alabama would care about unless someone deigned to bring it to their attention,” wrote Marc Ambinder, political editor for The Atlantic magazine.
“We’re getting criticized by all the right people,” responded Davis, a Tulsa native who runs Strategic Perception Inc. from an office in the Hollywood Hills. “People are noticing. That’s exactly what we intended.”
James was grilled about the ad during an interview Thursday on “The O’Reilly Factor,” a Fox News political talk show.
“The question in political terms is, are you pandering to anti-immigrant sentiments in order to try to advance what’s been a very faltering campaign?” asked guest host Juan Williams.
“What’s happening here is we’ve just made a common sense point, and I have come under attack from the far, far left,” James replied. “This is nothing more than political correctness gone amuck.”
That same day, James was mocked by CNN’s Rick Sanchez and Alabama’s own Paul Finebaum. But the ads, he said, ignited his campaign.
James, a Greenville businessman and the son of former Gov. Fob James, has lagged behind Republican rivals Bradley Byrne and Roy Moore in a variety of polls over the past few months. But with less than a month until the June 1 primary, several experts now view the contest as a tight, three-way race that could be headed for a runoff.
“Can you feel it turning?” an energized James said in a recent stump speech in Mobile. “A year ago they didn’t give us a chance. Look at us now.”
Timing played a part. The language ad coincided with a national outcry over immigration in Arizona, where Gov. Jan Brewer last week signed a new law criminalizing illegal immigration by defining it as trespassing.
But Davis, described by Time magazine as a “viral video mastermind,” said the James ad was conceived long before the Arizona controversy. The campaign conducted surveys in 2008 to identify issues of concern to Alabama voters.
“We came up with a list of about 25 complaints, and we gave that to Tim and said, ‘Tell us what you’d do to solve these problems,'” Davis said. “What you see in the ad is basically what he told us.”
A previous ad shows James lambasting trial lawyers; the next installment, scheduled to hit state airwaves on Monday, takes on pedophiles.
The ads may be unorthodox, but they’re tame compared to some of Davis’ other recent work.
His psychedelic ad for U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina in California is already a political legend, and previous spots have depicted grizzled Oklahoma convicts dancing in pink tutus and former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes as a giant rat with a gold crown.
The James ads, filmed in early March at James’ home in Greenville, have been criticized for their tone as much as their content. James’ slow-talking style and long, awkward pauses have raised comparisons to another Alabama icon — Forrest Gump.
“All he’s lacking is an appearance by Lieutenant Dan,” cracked James Anderson, a Democratic candidate for attorney general.
Davis said the halting style was by design.
“The point is, did you listen to what he said? Did you mention it to a friend?” Davis said. “It makes you notice. And it shows Tim for what he is — a serious candidate who is ready to lead the state.”
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