Strategic Perception, Inc.

Kasich hires strategist known for provocative campaign ads.

Jessica Wehrman
The Columbus Dispatch
June 10, 2015 6:17 PM

WASHINGTON – Fred Davis, a veteran campaign ad man who has produced some of the more iconic GOP campaign ads in recent years, was all set to help Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder run for president when something unexpected happened: Snyder decided not to run.

So Davis, whose ads include the 2008 John McCain "Celebrity" ad poking fun at President Barack Obama's popularity, took calls from three other would-be GOP contenders. He signed on with the one who had worried him most when he worked for Snyder: Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Davis' previous ads: 
John McCain "Celebrity"
Christine O'Donnell "I'm not a witch"
Rick Snyder "One tough nerd"
Carly Fiorina "Demon sheep"

As of this week, the Cincinnati-born Davis is media strategist for Kasich's political group, New Day for America. So is another high-profile campaign strategist, John Weaver, who formerly worked for McCain's campaign as well as that of 2012 GOP contender Jon Huntsman.

Weaver's selection was quickly panned by some in the hard-right, who argue that he is too moderate and who are skeptical of him for representing both the party-bucking McCain and the almost aggressively moderate Huntsman. The conservative site HotAir posted an article with the headline: John Kasich taps noted conservative-basher as senior campaign strategist for some reason. "Adding John Weaver to John Kasich is like adding nitroglycerin to a paint-shaker," one critic tweeted.

Davis told The Dispatch that the same things that appealed to him about Snyder sealed the deal for him with Kasich. Snyder, he said, "doesn't have a political filter. He tells you what he thinks. He's a real intellectual and what comes out is usually pretty darn smart. I think with John Kasich it's the same thing."

He said he finds Kasich's candor "incredibly refreshing – something that's been missing in American politics."

"In 48 or 49 states, if you ask the governor a question, it's, ‘I'll get back to you.' It's something that sounds like a political operative wrote it. That is not the case with (Kasich.)"

His ads have not been without controversy. In 2010, Davis produced a commercial for Rep. Pete Hoekstra in his Senate campaign against Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat. The ad referred to Stabenow as Debbie "Spend-it-now" and featured an Asian woman riding a bicycle in what appears to be a rice paddy thanking Stabenow for helping the Chinese economy by putting the United States deeper in debt. Hoekstra ultimately pulled the ad after critics said it was racist.

If there's a theme to Davis' ads, it's this: They are never, ever boring. He portrayed Tom Campbell, a California Republican opposing fellow GOP candidate Carly Fiorina for Senate in 2010, as a demon sheep. He marketed Snyder for governor as "One Tough Nerd." He produced the biography of Sarah Palin in 2008 describing her as a "mother, moosehunter, maverick."

The Hollywood-based consultant said his role will be "the main ad guy" for the 2016 presidential campaign, assuming Kasich runs. He'll be working both with his team and Kasich's advisers in Ohio.

He said he first discussed Kasich with former Sen. John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, who is helping Kasich in that state. During a joint election night appearance last November, Sununu started talking about Kasich. Davis, then working for Snyder, considered Kasich a threat to Snyder.

Now that threat is an employer.

So what would a Kasich ad look like? Davis, who also did the famous "I am not a witch" ad in the 2010 U.S. Senate race for Christine O'Donnell of Delaware, said "that's the $2,000 question."

"If you look at all ‘Fred' ads, they all stand out for some reason or another," he said. "Nobody on the Republican side is going to have the same money, it's likely, as (former Florida Gov.) Jeb Bush, so Jeb Bush will have more ads than other people, (Florida Sen.) Marco Rubio will have a lot of ads, (Wisconsin Gov.) Scott Walker is going to have probably a lot of ads because they started really, really early, they tied up the early money.

"Every John Kasich ad has to work harder."

Dispatch Public Affairs Editor Darrel Rowland contributed to this story.