Tom Nelson has joined Alex Lasry and Sarah Godlewski with a television ad buy. The least-funded of the four major candidates vying to take on Sen. Ron Johnson in November will probably have the smallest reach, but the ad itself could pack a bigger punch. The fourth candidate, Mandela Barnes, has yet to hit the airwaves.
While the Lasry and Godlewski ads are slickly produced, they have the feel of typical pol fodder. There’s nothing memorable about them. You can’t say the same for Nelson’s foray, which is just an extension of the humorous, quirky videos he produced early on his campaign. In one he holds a garage sale and tries to sell off his kids’ old toys to raise money for the campaign. Nelson is fast becoming the Charlie Berens of Wisconsin politics.
His first broadcast spot has better production values but the same quirky feel — and the same target. In the ad Nelson is dressed in a Milwaukee Bucks uniform and he’s in what looks like a high school gym. He talks about his support for the Bucks in their playoff run, but then he quickly turns to the $250 million in taxpayer subsidy for the Bucks’ home, the Fiserv Forum.
Nelson points out that this is money that could have gone for, “schools, roads, tax relief, things that benefit all of us.” He also mentions Foxonn and he concludes, “let’s end these crooked deals.”
Nelson never mentions Alex Lasry by name, but it’s clear that’s who he’s targeting. Lasry’s father is a co-owner of the Bucks and Alex is a team executive. Lasry is now running for Senate at only 33 and with no government experience. Even his own campaign handlers admit that he’s only a viable candidate because of his father’s money. So, this is fair game and Nelson exploits it skillfully, in a way that makes the point without coming off as mean-spirited. It’s an attack ad that doesn’t feel like one.
There are things about the ad with which I can quibble. For one thing, the public subsidy for the arena comes from state and local taxpayers. There’s no Federal money involved, so this isn’t an issue for a U.S. senator. And second, while sports palace subsidies are never popular — not even for the Packers — I’m not sure how salient an issue it is years after the fact and especially now with the Bucks on another run toward a championship.
Lasry is most certainly vulnerable to attack on his money and lack of experience, but I wonder if the more effective tack would have been to go after him for his Wall Street connections. Lasry’s father is a Wall Street hedge fund operator and early in his career he got Alex a job on the street as a broker. So going after Lasry as a child of Wall Street hits him in two ways — both his inherited wealth and his ties to a supremely unpopular institution among Democratic primary voters.
But that may be overthinking it. Nelson’s ad is funny and memorable and yet it hits hard in the same way that another underfunded candidate’s ads did back in the 1992 senate primary. That candidate’s name was Russ Feingold. You may have heard of him.