The Slatest

Can a Viral Campaign Ad Make the Difference in Deep-Red Texas?

MJ Hegar in a military helicopter.
MJ Hegar’s new ad is attracting significant online attention. MJ for Texas

When Amy McGrath, a Kentucky Democrat, kicked off her congressional campaign last year with a slickly produced ad about her struggle to become the first female fighter pilot, it was hailed as the best ad of the early midterms cycle and helped vault her to a primary victory last month. Now, a Democrat in Texas may have done her one better.

MJ Hegar, an Air Force veteran who is running against Republican Rep. John Carter in a dark-red district in central Texas, released a bio ad on Wednesday that tells the story of how her military helicopter was shot down by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and how she later sued the Pentagon to overturn its ban on women serving in ground-combat.

With a runtime of more than 3 minutes, the ad isn’t really intended for television. The idea is to cultivate some online interest in her race—something of a trend among candidates looking to stretch limited campaign cash this year. So far, it seems to be working. The ad was all over Twitter on Thursday, and had already earned Hegar more coverage than she might have otherwise expected in such a tough race. The video was made by Cayce McCabe of Putnam Partners, the same firm behind McGrath’s introductory ad.*

Perhaps the most successful bio spot of the cycle belongs to Randy Bryce, the union steel worker running to replace Paul Ryan in Wisconsin, who became a liberal sensation after a two-plus minute campaign ad that introduced voters to Bryce, his mustache, and his mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Bryce turned his viral fame into frequent appearances on MSNBC and fundraising cash, then secured the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and is now the heavy favorite in his primary.

Hegar has already won her primary, and will now face a difficult general election. The district is a R+10, according to the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index and it went for Trump by 13 points in 2016. (For Democrats, that was an improvement on Mitt Romney’s 22-point advantage four years earlier.) But there’s some evidence Hegar’s life story could win her fans in the Lone Star State. When Public Policy Polling surveyed the district last November, they found Carter with a 6-point advantage when respondents were given no biographical info about either candidate. After informing respondents of Hegar’s military career, though, the positions were reversed and Hegar led by 2 points.

*Correction, June 21, 2018: This post originally misstated the ad man behind MJ Hegar’s campaign commercial. It was Cayce McCabe, not Mark Putnam.