Candidate reunites 'West Wing' cast, but will going viral help campaign?

Sep 20, 2012

Why would a political campaign want to release an online video that’s part of a genre best known for piano-playing cats?

Why would it risk handing over control of its message to the unruly masses of YouTube and Facebook commenters?

Well, this very article is one reason.

The campaign viral video relies on big names, controversy, or just downright strange content (see Carly Fiorina's "Demon Sheep") to garner the attention of social media users. If all goes well, media outlets will pick up the story.

So far so good for Michigan Supreme Court candidate Bridget McCormack’s campaign video reuniting the cast of NBC’s hit show “The West Wing.” McCormack says it was her sister Mary, a former "West Wing" cast member, who had the idea.

McCormack, who is running against three other candidates for the Court,  says she told her sister about how people were voting a straight-ticket while neglecting the non-partisan section of their ballots.

This video is their response.

So far the video, released late Wednesday, has already received coverage in the Detroit Free Press, USA Today, and, according to MLive, is set to be featured on the entertainment TV show “Extra.”

Another reason campaigns use these videos is that they can be cheap. According to MLive, McCormack’s campaign paid under $5,000 for the video that was filmed in Los Angeles.

But there can be a downside. If a candidate chooses to push the envelope, they might get burned. Michiganders will remember Pete Hoekstra’s controversial “Debbie Spend It Now” Super Bowl advertisement. The ad received nationwide coverage for what many perceived to be racist content.

Yet it has not prevented Hoekstra from returning to the viral video scene. His “Meet the Parents” video, calling Debbie Stabenow, “the worst senator,” is part of a new online ad push.

According to MLive, Hoekstra's campaign will be spending “in the six digits” on a coordinated effort covering social media and other web tools.

While acknowledging the importance of having a web strategy, some political analysts question just how useful a viral video can be.

Michigan political consultant Steve Mitchell thinks the “West Wing” idea is a good one, and that it should effectively "cut through the web clutter."

But he wonders whether it will serve its purpose of getting voters to scan down the ballot all the way to the non-partisan section. And this from a video he calls "absolutely perfect."

“It’s the wild, the off the charts, the stranger things that go viral,” Mitchell says.

For Mitchell it’s all about the “eyeballs,” and those eyeballs can still be most reliably found watching TV.

- Jordan Wyant, Michigan Radio Newsroom