The Best and Worst Campaign Ads of 2018

House and Senate ads that made us laugh, cry and cringe

West Virginia’s Don Blankenship lost his bid for the Republican Senate nomination. (Screenshot/Blankenship for Congress/YouTube)

The best (or worst) part of following campaigns — depending on your perspective — is watching all the ads. TV spots from campaigns and outside groups have flooded the airwaves this year, beginning with the primaries this spring. 

We’re not judging which ones have been most effective, which were most inaccurate or most offensive. And we’re excluding the biopic viral videos that have raised so much money for Democratic candidates. (For the most part, these lengthy videos didn’t run on TV in full.)

Here are just a few of the best and worst ads we saw this year.

The best

1. Minnesota’s Pete Stauber is the Republican most likely to flip a Democrat-held House seat. A former Duluth police officer and professional hockey player, Stauber has worn a lot of uniforms that resonate in the 8th District. In this spot, his family holds them all up. 

2. Not every campaign ad comes with the disclaimer: “Do not attempt without rigorous training and proper safety equipment.” But California Democrat Katie Hill’s spot ahead of the June primary had to include that warning, since the next 30 seconds involved her talking while climbing up a giant boulder. She faces GOP Rep. Steve Knight on Tuesday. 

3. Michigan Democrat Elissa Slotkin is one of many candidates who have opened up on camera this year about family struggles with cancer. This minute-long spot tells her mother’s story and ends with Slotkin, a former acting assistant secretary of Defense, telling GOP Rep. Mike Bishop his vote for his party’s health care plan was a “fireable offense.”

4. Democrat David Brill’s ad against Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar looks like a typical testimonial with voters describing why they don’t support the incumbent. But 40 seconds in, there’s a plot twist. The voters are actually Gosar’s siblings! Brill doesn’t have a good chance of defeating Gosar in the deep-red district, but the ad certainly turned heads.

5. Former Indiana state Rep. Mike Braun, who’s challenging Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, won the GOP nomination by defeating two rival congressmen. He touted himself as a businessman outsider, while arguing that Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer were indistinguishable. He infamously employed cardboard cutouts to make his case.

The worst  

1. Facing a tough race against Democrat Jared Golden, Maine GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s team went to Lewiston (where Golden lives and where his state House district is) to shoot this spot at Simones’ Hot Dog Stand, a local watering hole known for its red snappers. It features some prominent local politicians (who aren’t identified and look pretty unnatural) talking about how great the GOP congressman is. 

2. Democrats love to attack Montana state Auditor Matt Rosendale for being a “fake rancher” and for being from Maryland. The GOP Senate nominee didn’t do himself any favors with an ad about gun rights that refers to the Second Amendment as “Article II.” His media consultants quickly recut the spot, but here’s a screenshot of Rosendale in the original ad standing in front of a massive billboard that says “Article II.”

3. Remember Don Blankenship? With this ad, how could you not? The former Massey Energy CEO served a year in prison in connection with a 2010 mine explosion that killed 29 people in southern West Virginia. And for a brief time this spring, he gave national Republicans a serious scare when he appeared to be surging in polls ahead of the Senate primary. He attacked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as “Cocaine Mitch,” and in a subsequent spot, went after his “China family.” 

4. Army veteran Dan Helmer faced a crowded Democratic primary for Virginia’s 10th District, where he was up against several female candidates. So his team decided he needed to stand out. But with this ad, he stood out for the wrong reasons. 

5. In Indiana, Donnelly is trying to distance himself from the national Democratic Party and Washington dysfunction to hold on to his seat in a state that backed President Donald Trump in 2016. But this spot, in which the senator ducks flying plates in a restaurant brawl, ends up looking overly staged and melodramatic. 

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