edited by Eric M. Appleman
May 6, 2009
Eugene Hedlund, a mortgage broker in Irvine,
California, formed TruthandHope.org PAC in 2004; it ran independent
grassroots television ads promoting Gov. Howard Dean during the primary
and supporting Sen. John Kerry in the general election. John K.
Addis, a web and graphic designer in
Lansing, Michigan, whose viral video "The Public v. John McCain," >
had generated considerable Internet buzz in August 2008, joined
Hedlund at TruthandHope.org PAC. In Sept. 2008 TruthandHope.org
PAC ran a couple of fairly standard ads, "Judgment" (which won a Pollie
in the "Best Use of Negative/Contrast: President" category) and "Thank
John McCain," in Michigan and Colorado. Hedlund notes that at
this point the campaign was in the negative, define-your-opponent,
Where TruthandHope.org PAC made its mark was as a catalyst and
facilitor of several interesting projects, serving as a financial
vehicle, and helping with legal logistics, research data
and ad placement. Hedlund essentially served as a political
Lee Hirsch, a Brooklyn-based documentary filmmaker whose works include
"Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony" (2002), had been shopping
the idea for Local Voices for months before someone turned him on to
TruthandHope.org PAC. Hedlund writes, "He contacted me via email
and two days later was on his way to Missouri."
A description of Local Voices
states, "In these short real people ads, Americans in communities
that are often overlooked will see their own towns and neighbors
conceptualizing their support of Obama through the lens of that
particular region's struggles and identity." In addition to
Hirsch and his team working in Missouri, John Allen, who was known to
Hirsch through his work on "Amandla!," led a team in Nevada. A
bit later Alicia Dwyer, a documentary filmmaker from Los Angeles,
contacted Hirsch about joining Local Voices, and she led a team in Ohio.
"The vision for the LV ads was to find
communities of 30-50,000 with cable zones we could saturate within our
budget (although if budget allowed, we would have simply had more teams
in more areas versus larger areas because the ultimate concept was to
reach out to these smaller communities with direct messaging). We
utilized the same micro-targeting technology that is implemented to
choose where to air the spots, but in reverse using it now to determine
the areas to visit."
The documentary approach and care and attention devoted to producing
these ads give them a distinctive feel, and the one-minute format
allows time to weave in little details of the featured person's home,
workplace and life. As a result the ads convey an
authenticity and honesty missing from slicker 30-second spots.
The website notes:
"Each segment of Local Voices
will be shot over a two-day time period with a four-day total edit
turnaround into powerful, documentary styled ad spots for local
television, radio and viral distribution in the communities where each
respective segment is filmed. The content will aesthetically
the candid, unrehearsed, sometimes humorous nature of the interviews,
and the honesty of the sentiments expressed therein. The feel of
Voices promises to be authentic and almost
user-generated, not slick but organic, honest and moving while
delivering clear and on-point messaging."
In Missouri, Hirsch and his team started with Dana Snodgrass, a small
business owner and farmer in Joplin. Joplin, located in Southwest
Missouri, is the largest city in Jasper County, with a population of
more than 49,000. In 2004 Jasper County voted for Bush-Cheney
over Kerry-Edwards by 31,846 votes to 13,002 (70.6% to
28.8%). Also in Joplin, Hirsch also filmed his Snodgrass' son
Kyle, and Frederick Dalton, a retired U.S. Navy Commander. He
further filmed ads featuring
Jack Moore, a WWII veteran from nearby Nixa, and Sharon, a
businesswoman from Carthage, south of Springfield, and Darrell
Hanschen, a pharmacist in Jackson. Jackson, in Southeast
Missouri, is the county seat of Cape Girardeau County, which has a
population of a bit more than 73,000. In 2004 Bush-Cheney
carried the county by 23,814 votes to 10,568 (68.9% to 30.6%). In
Western Nevada, Allen found on
Sandy, a woman on the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone
Reservation, Keith Howell, a businessman in Fallon, and Walt, a
financial consultant from
Washoe County. In Columbus, Ohio, Dwyer and her team filmed ads
featuring Barclay Hastings, a veteran, and Joan McKinney, a
businesswoman. TruthandHope.org PAC spent $120,000 to run the
Missouri ads and $30,000 each to run the ads in Nevada and Ohio.
The Missouri ads generated considerable local discusion and media
attention. Results were mixed. The Republican presidential
ticket still won Jasper and Cape Girardeau Counties by solid
margins. In Jasper County McCain-Palin obtained 31,667 votes
(65.9%) to 15,730 votes (32.8%) for Obama and in Cape Girardeau County
the Republican team prevailed by 24,768 votes (66.3%) to 12,208
(32.8%). The statewide shift was 7.1 percentage points (from 7.20
percentage points in 2004 to 0.14 percentage points in 2008); in Jasper
County, Obama bettered this; the Republicans' margin of victory was
reduced by 8.7 percentage points (from
41.8 percentage points in 2004 to 33.1 percentage points in 2008),
while in Cape Girardeau County the shift toward the Democratic ticket
was 4.8 percentage points (from 38.3 percentage points in 2004 to 33.5
in 2008). The
ad featuring Darrell Hanschen talking about race went on to win two of
Campaigns & Elections' Politics
Magazine's Reed Awards (Independent Expenditure Campaign/Issue
Advocacy/Ballot Initiative and Presidential Candidate) against some of
the most well known and well funded ads of the campaign.
"What I've learned is that the idea of
reaching out to local communities and telling real stories which bridge
the gaps between left and right with connective language is a most
effective model for winning votes. It is less effective as a
fundraiser, as it doesn't fire up the base unfortunately.
However, the point of an election is to win. If I had it to do
again, I would spend more time building the donor list. We were
terribly under funded which was a hinderance for the overall
campaign. Luckily the directors were over and beyond the call of
duty on all accounts, and were fundraising themselves."
In addition to Local Voices, Hedlund helped on several other efforts.
MamasforObama, a Facebook group, had produced several videos.
TruthandHope worked to run these in North Carolina and Florida (about
$10,000 in each state).
A small group in Montana wanted to put together a radio ad for Obama
and raise $1,000 to air it. Hedlund lent them the TruthandHope
name and legal coverage, disclaimer, and so forth, set up an ActBlue
account for them, and executed the buy. "It took little time and
allowed them to be involved," he stated.
Hedlund adds, "The media companies and well known organizations are
locked away in ivory towers while there is a wealth of talent going to
waste. My intention is to remain as an open door so work like
this can be created." He writes that he is committed to
continuing the work of TruthandHope and has set his sights on reversing
Proposition 8 and restoring marriage equality in California; he has
also formed his own media company, DMedia, Inc.
See also: "Alicia Dwyer, Filmmaker for Local Voices for
Oct. 27, 2008.
2009 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action