When Michigan Republican Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land released a campaign ad in early 2014 responding to criticisms made against her by a political opponent, she knew there would be talk. The decision to confront such a strong statement with sarcasm and humor wasn’t made lightly. Later that year, when Land lost the election to her opponent, many cited the campaign ad as part of her downfall. What most critics have failed to mention is that given the political boundaries Land was walking at the time, confronting the issue of gender and making a satirical ad about it, were risks on both fronts.
Land’s campaign didn’t fail because of one ad; it failed because she was unable to appeal to the majority. Though she had been elected previously, Land’s position as a female politician, a Republican even, created significant boundaries for her to tread lightly upon. She knew that she would need to appeal to women voters while retaining the Republican majority– which is hard to do when you can’t address many of the issues women care about without offending your party or the female electorate.
When Land’s campaign decided to make the ad, they waged a decision on whom they wanted to target the most: women. In the ad, Land uses the phrase “I’m Terri Lynn Land and I approve this message because as a woman, I might know a little bit more about women than Gary Peters.” It is easy to recognize in this statement that Land does not directly address any of the issues facing women but uses sarcasm with the intent to win over women by taking on the role of a “woman” instead of a “politician.”
In “Media Politics: A Citizens Guide”, authors Shanto Iyengar and Jennifer A. McGrady argue that “candidates are primarily interested in reaching voters whose preferences may be pivotal to the outcome of the race”(183). This is true in Land’s case as she targets women voters. Iyengar and McGrady go on to say that, “Policy advertising follows a simple formula — highlight the candidate’s positions, but focus only on issues where your candidate is favored”(193). This is part of Land’s problem. Her status as a Republican counteracts her position as a woman in this scenario. Her job as a politician is to walk the boundaries carefully and take out ads that show her strengths as a candidate, not rebounds to her weaknesses.
I would argue that although Iyengar and McGrady make good points on how campaign advertising works to benefit politicians, they do not focus enough on the contrasting boundaries that some politicians must walk and how to navigate those through advertising. In some instances, such as Land’s, her position as a woman politician will not trump her place as a Republican. Iyengar and McGrady focus on framing the issues being discussed in a “masculine or feminine way in order to attract voters,” but they do not account for the framing of the candidate themselves and how the varying aspects of who they are as a politician and a person might influence voters outside of one particular issue (196). Land’s issue was choosing between women voters and her Republican fan base and she made the wrong choice. Knowing how to manipulate the system to gain the majority of votes is critical in securing the office. If Land had spent more time walking the boundaries carefully instead of jumping in to one specific area, she might be spending a little more time in Washington this year.
- Iyengar, Shanto, and Jennifer A. McGrady. “Campaigning Through The Media.” Media Politics: A Citizen’s Guide. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. 183-96. Print.