10. Heidi Campbell “Out of Tune”
Given her penchant for sporting headscarves while courting Muslim voters, it comes as little surprise that Campbell would outright steal her “Nashville is out of tune” slogan from black mayoral candidate Stephanie Johnson. But it takes a true ripoff artist to pilfer Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer’s “fix the damn roads'' while aping Megan Barry’s phony inflection and imitating the guitarist of the worst Bonnie Raitt cover band to be perpetually rejected from every county fair in the state. The only thing Campbell hasn’t appropriated during her campaign is Andy Ogles’s undergrad diploma. The absolute worst political ad of this cycle and perhaps the 2020s. Please clap.
9. Freddie O’Connell “The Ball”
The key takeaway from Freddie’s first major spot is his utter contempt for the type of folks who like to live close enough to a metro area where they can catch a good game and a burger while in town. His obsession with young white bachelorettes during his bid warrants the state legislature switching up campaign finance laws so that he can use some of his contributions to keep a standing weekly session with an old-school Freudian after this whole thing is over.
It’s bizarre that a guy who touts his policy wonk status and obscure knowledge of Nashville’s every nook and cranny as his main selling point would associate himself with the spot’s ridiculous either/or premise. It’s even more baffling that the actor playing the billionaire could start a quite lucrative side hustle as a Joe Biden impersonator.
Excluding Beto O’Rourke, there’s no better example of white liberal privilege than Freddie. Coming from any other candidate, the ad’s representation of women and black people would spark allegations of rampant misogyny and tokenism. The thing is, Beto has some semblance of cool. O’Connell just comes off as a GMO hybrid of Ned Flanders and Tom Hanks in Cast Away if he had a copy of A People’s History of the United States on the island instead of a volleyball.
8. Matt Wiltshire “Hope/Worry”
The spot plays to Wiltshire’s strengths as a return to the dapper Dean years after nearly a decade of Dollar General Hillary and a guy who resembles a claymation imp more than a leader of the local executive branch. Dude clearly got an “A” in public speaking and seems in control while delivering a message most candidates are actively avoiding. He even pulls off a line as clunky and vague as, “Like never before, we will have hope and worry.”
But the premise doesn’t make much sense. Why is he randomly hanging out in a school? Is he trying to show MNPS security is so lax that anyone with a well-fitting suit can pop a squat in the kindergarten art classroom and pontificate? Is that ominous drawing of the hand behind him a potent symbol of CRT going full-on end of Carrie or just a half-baked way to celebrate diversity?
I’m never a fan of candidates using their families as props, but I’m positively obsessed with that cooler he takes from his daughter. They seem like they are on a jaunt to deliver a heart to a transplant surgeon at Vanderbilt. At the end of the day, this single-issue spot is weirdly chaotic.
7. Sharon Hurt “Untitled”
What do you mean by “these people ''? Hurt goes meta by featuring Jim Gingrich and Matt Wiltshire ads, but it’s curious that her hackneyed call to “look past all the privilege” of these cleancut white males glaringly omits Ivy Leaguer native son and fellow councilmember O’Connell. The implication that the two candidates she calls out don’t respect janitors and secretaries is as ethically dubious as it is outrageous. For an ad imploring voters to ask what people believe, we are left without an iota of any tangible policy position. It has about as much heft as a Hallmark Channel BLM endorsement during commercial breaks and is easily the most mean-spirited of the bunch.
6. Freddie O’Connell “We Will”
Not only do we get an ad touting some bona fides, but a subtle PSA that girls can play football too (I’m dying to know how many takes of Freddie getting that catch so nonchalantly they shot). The steadicam and confident stride may make O’Connell look like a secondstring The West Wing character on a walk and talk. However, the ad just can’t see past its own insularity. Freddie’s got that green space and density-free urban life in his emerging neighborhood. He tries to pass off his onslaught of accolades from the Bill Freeman-owned Scene as an organic groundswell of his native appeal and independent mindedness. Hates tourists, loves alliteration. We get it. But will the real Freddie O’Connell please step up?
5. Jeff Yarbro “Walk”
The ad is so cardboard and innocuous that it may as well be A.I. generated. It also rivals O’Connell’s spots for most tone deaf. Yarbro should be concerned about his daughter’s safety, but his version of Nashville as a foliage-filled utopia where parents walk their kids to school is so far removed from reality, you wonder if the guy has ever set foot in an MNPS building.
Considering the Cooper administration and its bureaucracy have curdled everything they’ve touched, Yarbro’s promise to invest even more trust in unelected political hacks seems misplaced. Regardless, he does earn the distinction of being the only candidate to offer concrete policy in one of these spots with his quite solid promise to increase mental health resources in public schools. Not to mention, he’s a cool enough dad to buy his daughter a baller backpack instead of some bulky Igloo accessory larger than her head.
4. Jim Gingrich “Single Thing”
Gingrich utterly shows up Wiltshire on the school-set ad front. Unfortunately, the premise here conjures Jimmy Carter’s now-classic presidential debate gaffe of seeking counsel from his teenage daughter on the particulars of nuclear proliferation. With a few minor edits, Christopher Rufo could lift this ad for a viral video of elementary school indoctrination—though I really want to know the backstory of the “less knives” kid. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the clear policies Gingrich articulates, but it’s near impossible to pull off this type of spot without coming off as exploitative—one of the pitfalls Wiltshire’s campaign at least tried to sidestep.
3. Matt Wiltshire “One Proven”
This one is a significant improvement from Wiltshire’s first foray into commercials, though citing a Lookout article by Megan Barry’s husband about Wiltshire’s adeptness at handling affordable housing isn’t the best look since it aligns him with the crew that exacerbated the problem in the first place. Keeping seniors in their homes is a valiant goal. Pretending a mayor has to do anything more than lower or cap property taxes to achieve it preys upon the fears of those who don’t know much about local taxation.
Some wooden delivery makes it unclear whether Wiltshire says that he will work with the private sector to build more houses “that” Nashvilians can afford or “than” they can afford while glossing over that its the very government interference into the housing market he advocates that has made the city so unaffordable that our first responders and teachers are fleeing to the suburbs. I’m not seeing these “new ideas to get Nashville” on track, just another bro in a blue shirt with a savior complex.
2. Alice Rolli “New Leader”
Political spots typically come off as awkward and off-putting because of their tendency to treat the candidate like a celebrity when most politicians, especially at the local level, could never pull off charisma and cool. What makes this ad for Rolli so effective is the way nearly every shot features her, but she’s rarely the focal point of any frame. It seems more about the city and the people she’s interacting with than depicting her as some sort of superhero.
The spot also deserves kudos for music that baits us into thinking it’s about to be a downer laundry list of Nashville’s problems before quickly shifting into perhaps the least annoying Muzak one could find for this sort of product. Sure, it could have benefited from a higher quality camera package or an unorthodox approach like those prescient David Fox ads featuring surrealistic furries and Atlanta traffic, but that wouldn’t jibe with Rolli’s down-to-business persona.
1. Jim Gingrich “My Dad”
Gingrich more than rebounds with what is the most clever spot of the campaign season thus far. It’s nice to see an ad that treats a senior as lively and tech-savvy. The Newt Gingrich punchline not only works, but is funnier than anything I’ve seen on late night since Conan retired.
Still, the ad comes up short on substance, attacking the race track and stadium plans with the same nuance of Bernie railing against the banks. If we do get stuck with an off-the-rack progressive, at least Gingrich seems like a real person with a modicum of wit to boot. I guess we’ll never know.