Rating The Season’s TV Political Ads

As a freelance scribbler, I’ve reviewed books and written about politicians, but what I’ve always wanted to review is movies. The closest I can get, alas, is political advertising. Yech.

Let’s begin with congressional candidate Donna Mercado Kim’s “Donna” ad: Hardhat construction workers, tall beach bunnies, campaign supporters and assorted others stand around snapping their fingers and singing the Ritchie Valens hit Donna.

I didn’t like the song in 1958 (though it did reach No. 2 on the Billboard chart), and I don’t like it in 2014. It’s too slow and too sappy. Memorable, perhaps, but for what and why? All it offers is name recognition, and after 30 years as a good-looking, indefatigable watchdog over taxpayer money, everybody knows Donna Kim’s name.

Then there’s the song lyric: “I had a girl, Donna was her name, Since she left me, I’ve never been the same.” Huh? Leavin’ for where, Donna, Washington, D.C.? I’m confused.

“Oh Donna,” sorry, but your ad only gets one-and-a-half stars out of a possible four on the brand-new “Mostly Politics” star-o-meter.

Then there’s opponent Mark Takai’s recent ad in which his two adorable pre-teens, Kaila and Matthew, star. They tell of Dad’s medal-winning ways as a high school swimmer, his service overseas in the U.S. Army and his concern for the environment, although Kaila dismisses his plug-in car as singularly uncool. As Takai himself warms to his clichéd promise to protect the middle class, son steps in front and says, “Dad, that’s a wrap.” Smiles abound, and it’s further proof provided that kids are scene stealers. Three-and-a-half stars.

I mentioned Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui’s ad in the July 2 MidWeek. In it, half-a-dozen people wrestle unsuccessfully with “Tsutsui,” intercut with the lieutenant governor’s be-mused facial responses. As I said then, watch the ad once and you will remember Tsutsui’s name, which was the point. If there were Emmys offered for campaign ads, it would be a nominee. My just-procured star-o-meter rates it at least a 3.5.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie introduced a new advertisement last week. Call it his Checker Cab ad. For the first couple decades of Abercrombie’s political career, a yellow Checker Cab was his signature ride.

It’s back, and Neil is the cabbie, two ladies his back-seat fares. They comment on new buildings going up — a school, a Kakaako housing project — and observe that the economy’s back. Then they ask how much they owe for their ride. A smiling Cabbie Guv turns to them and says, “Ladies, it’s on me.”

A good 30-seconder for the governor, reminding the viewer of his populist roots and that he governed during Hawaii’s economic rebound.

Three stars.

“Why not four?” you ask. Two reasons. First, I can hear a shirttail uncle of mine, a lawyer by trade, yelling at the television set, “‘On you?’ What about the taxpayer? We’re paying for that stuff.” He’s a Republican, but like many other Republicans he’ll be voting in the Aug. 9 Democratic primary.

And second, it’s one teaspoon too obvious. The good, brave governor of his Checker Cab period just opted out of three AARP debates in which he would undoubtedly have been asked about his administration’s 2011 proposal to tax the pensions of those ladies in the back seat. I agreed with Abercrombie on that tax, but those two fares probably wouldn’t.

So three stars it’ll have to be.

Finally, Clayton Hee has an advertisement on the air in which he looks directly at the camera and talks about giving back, another political cliché of the first order. He includes a shot of his wife and son and promises that as lieutenant governor he will be an advocate for the people of Hawaii.

Tough to be advocate of much of anything as L.G. without breaking relations with the governor. Hee’s been a first-rate legislator; trying to be an advocate as L.G. could make him a very frustrated man. Two stars.