TIME democrats

The Last Southern Democratic Senator Gave Her Farewell Speech

Democratic Senator Landrieu reacts while delivering a concession speech after the results of the U.S. Senate race in Louisiana during a runoff in New Orleans
Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu reacts while delivering a concession speech after the results of the U.S. Senate race in Louisiana during a runoff in New Orleans on Dec. 6, 2014. Jonathan Bachman—Reuters

The loss of her Senate seat completes a political realignment that began decades ago

Departing Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu promised to spend her retirement from politics working to repair the environmentally degraded Gulf Coast Thursday in an emotional farewell speech delivered from the Senate floor.

“It is something worth fighting for,” she said. “We would not be a country without the Mississippi Delta.”

In a runoff election December 6, Landrieu lost decisively to Republican Bill Cassidy, making the last statewide elected Democrat in the Deep South. The loss of Landrieu’s seat completes a political realignment in the once solidly Democratic South that began decades ago.

Landrieu, who is from New Orleans, said she will focus her work out of office on issues impacting children and the environment, including coastal restoration, a hot button issue in Louisiana, where wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate.

“The city is going to stay there and the region is going to stay there,” she said.

Landrieu thanked a litany of staffers and lawmakers but had less charitable parting words for one elected official.

“President Bush was not that forward-leaning,” she said of Bush’s response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans. “I’ll just leave it at that. There will be a lot more in my book.

During her 18 years in the Senate, Landrieu was a dependable ally of the oil and gas industry and an unabashed pork-barrel dealmaker who touted her success at diverting federal funds to her state—she famously traded her key vote in favor of Obamacare in exchange for millions of dollars in extra federal support for Medicaid in Louisiana.

Landrieu told Politico it is “highly, highly unlikely” she will run for office again.

TIME Congress

Inside Landrieu’s Last Fight: Keystone or Bust

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) holds a news conference with fellow committee member Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) on the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington on Nov. 12, 2014.
Senator Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, holds a news conference with fellow committee member Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, on the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington on Nov. 12, 2014 Gary Cameron—Reuters

The Search for 60

Before the doors to the Senators’ private elevator closed on embattled Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu in the basement of the Capitol building Monday afternoon, a reporter shouted to her from the hallway outside: “Who is the 60th?” She replied with a wink.

With just hours to go before a Tuesday night vote to authorize the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, Landrieu claims to have the 60 votes she needs for a filibuster-proof majority to ensure passage, but her supporters say they have just 59 votes. If she gets to 60 and the Senate passes the bill, despite opposition from Senate Democratic leaders and the White House, Landrieu hopes it will increase her diminishing chances at re-election in a run-off vote in Louisiana early next month.

“Landrieu is still pulling out every stop, calling, texting, pleading, begging,” says a Senate Democrat aide. “Leadership—they occasionally check in to make sure [my boss is] not flipping, but they’ve been keeping tabs on it…[My boss] had already told Landrieu ‘no’ about 15 times before he got his first Harry Reid call.”

Landrieu’s hunt for a 60th has become a bigger battle between powerful, well-funded environmentalists and energy interests. Passage of the bill would be the strongest signal to President Barack Obama, after six years of debate, that there is now robust political support in favor of building the pipeline.

The Chamber of Commerce has sent around letters supporting the pipeline, even putting the vote on its annual scorecard that helps determine which candidates the powerful business lobby will support in the future. A number of labor groups, including the Laborers’ International Union of North America, North America’s Building Trades Unions and the International Union of Operating Engineers have written letters urging Senators to vote yes.

American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard, who “fully expects” the bill to pass, touted its outreach Monday, telling TIME that Senators have heard from “multiple thousands” of constituents burning up the Hill’s phone lines. “I promise you they’ve heard from thousands of their constituents over the past week or two in the post-election cycle,” Gerard says. “These aren’t industry people, these are voters in their respective states.”

The anti-Keystone side has also increased the pressure. On Thursday, League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski hovered just off the Senate floor, giving a hug to Democrat Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware after their conversation, according to a Senate Democrat aide. Coons, a Landrieu target, will likely vote no on the bill.

“Our hope is that it won’t matter,” says David Goldston, the top lobbyist for the anti-Keystone National Resources Defense Council, of the bill, which faces a possible veto from Obama even if it passes. “It will either confirm Congress’ unwillingness to step in on an ongoing process or it will confirm the President’s unwillingness to allow Congress to step in on an ongoing matter.”

Outside groups have even already claimed some credit in influencing the outcome. Jason Kowalski, the policy director of anti-Keystone 350.org, said that his group decided to turn up the heat on Michigan Democrat Sen. Carl Levin after hearing that his front desk was telling callers the Senator was undecided.

“Within 10 minutes we had an email blast out the door to thousands of supporters across Michigan,” says Kowalski. “In a span of two hours his office received over 100 phone calls from Michigan climate activists. Reporters picked up the scent too, and after that two-hour call barrage the Senator told a reporter he would be voting ‘No.’”

Levin said Monday that he’s been “consistently opposed” to Keystone and would vote no Monday. “It would bypass an environmental impact statement on a new route which is a real possibility,” he added.

Landrieu is the driving force behind the fight, calling on years of Senate friendships in hopes of scraping by in the uphill runoff reelection race Dec. 6. The Keystone push is unlikely to be enough—she’s down five points according to Real Clear Politics. But on Monday, Landrieu fought on, conferring on the Senate floor with North Dakota Republican Sen. John Hoeven, West Virgina Democrat Joe Manchin and Virginia Democrat Mark Warner, among other supporters.

Manchin spoke to his fellow West Virginian Democrat Rockefeller while Landrieu spoke for several minutes with Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski, who appeared more enthused with what was inside her desk than the conversation. Both Rockefeller and Mikulski are expected to vote “nay” Tuesday. Landrieu says she has 60 votes, although she has yet to name the final one.

“She has a southern charm that is almost irresistible—almost,” joked New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, who said he would oppose the bill Monday.

The White House hasn’t been as aggressive as Landrieu; Maine Independent Sen. Angus King, who says he is likely to vote no, said Monday that Obama’s lobbyists haven’t reached out. But the bill’s supporters say that White House messaging of a likely veto has sidelined some Democrats.

“That frankly makes it tougher to get Democrats on board,” says Ryan Bernstein, chief of staff for Hoeven, a top pro-Keystone Republican.

“Senator Landrieu has a difficult task because it’s a question of will fellow Democrats get to vote their own conscience or are they trying to protect the president,” says the API’s Gerard. “And I think that’s the real challenge.”

TIME Congress

Boehner Reelected As House Speaker

After extending their party’s House majority to the largest margin in decades, the top Republican Congressmen will all return to leadership roles for another two years.

House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Whip Steve Scalise and Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers all ran unopposed. National Republican Conference Chairman Greg Walden will continue to serve as the head of the effort to elect more House Republicans. The leadership election reaffirmed the election this summer following the primary loss of former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Despite her party’s losses, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is all but certain to win reelection to her post on November 18. She lived up to her reputation as a fundraising powerhouse, raising over $100 million for Democrats this cycle.

Across the Capitol, Senate Democrats and Republicans voted Thursday to keep Nevada Senator Harry Reid and Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell as their parties’ leaders.

 

 

 

TIME Election 2014

California Voters Back $7.5 Billion Water Bond

Governor Jerry Brown backed the measure to help prevent future water shortages

In addition to re-electing Governor Jerry Brown by a wide margin, California voters also endorsed his top priority, approving a $7.5 billion water bond. The measure, which looked certain to be passed 66.8% to 33.2% after 99.9% of precincts reported, is meant to shore up the state’s ability to cope with drought conditions and will increase its water storage capacity and protect drinking water.

Ahead of the vote, critics pointed out that the water bond wouldn’t have much immediate effect on the ongoing drought nor would it decrease the state’s overall water usage. But Brown poured more than $3 million of his own campaign funds into the water bond promotional campaign, which was also bolstered by large donations from wealthy Californians, including tech entrepreneur Sean Parker and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

TIME Election 2014

The Weirdest Moments of Election Day 2014

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Casts His Vote In Midterm Elections
A voter gestures as U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) votes in the midterm elections at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. on Nov. 4, 2014. Aaron P. Bernstein—Getty Images

It's not all serious news

Election Day is a serious moment in American politics. New politicians are elected to important offices, policy fights are decided and the system of government is granted legitimacy by the participation of the people.

But a lot of weird things happen too.

Governor Jay Nixon tweeted a photo encouraging people to go vote. The picture went viral and had everyone cracking up before he took it down.

But there was another strong contender for photo of the day thanks to this Kentucky voter, who didn’t let ballot partitions stand in the way of a photobomb of Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Casts His Vote In Midterm Elections
A voter gestures as U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) votes in the midterm elections at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. on Nov. 4, 2014. Aaron P. Bernstein—Getty Images

Once people made it into the ballot booth, things got a little weird too. The famously inebriated (and fictional) Capt. Jack Sparrow of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” swashbuckled his way into the race for Hennepin, Minn., County Commission.

This ballot in Kansas, meantime, could have used some “arrrs” in the line for governor.

And of course, no national event would be complete without some wisdom from Kanye West, who waited to do his celebrity get-out-the-vote tweet until pretty late on Election Day.

TIME Election 2014

Arkansas Could Finally End Prohibition After More Than 80 Years

Alcohol Liquor Store
In half of Arkansas's counties, liquor sales are prohibited. A constitutional amendment being voted on today would change that. Ted S. Warren—AP

Voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to turn the state's dry counties wet

Drop a pin on a map of Arkansas and your chances of finding a stiff drink there are about 50-50. But that could soon change if enough residents vote for a constitutional amendment on Tuesday’s ballot that would open the entire state to beer, wine and liquor sales for the first time since the 1930s.

Arkansas is one of dozens of states that allow local municipalities to make their own decisions about selling booze, but only about 10 states actually have dry counties, most of which are in the South. The result is what’s known as “patchwork prohibition,” where the state is divided into wet, dry and even moist (beer and wine only) counties.

The divisions can be confusing, with wet cities occasionally in dry counties and highly-profitable liquor stores almost always parked just across the border from booze-less regions. In Texas, for example, 49 of the state’s 254 counties are wet, 11 are dry and the rest are a combination of wet and dry. Alabama has 25 dry counties, but many cities within them are wet. And in Kentucky’s 120 counties, 39 are dry, 32 are wet and 49 are some combination of the two. No state comes closer to an equal division than Arkansas, where 37 counties are dry and 38 counties are wet.

Opening these dry counties to alcohol sales has become an increasingly popular economic development tool. Several counties in Kentucky have used their “local option” to expand liquor sales in the last couple years, while voters in Alabama’s largest remaining dry city are considering a similar ballot initiative Tuesday as well (the 2012 push failed by close to 400 votes).

Unlike most other votes on the wet/dry issue, the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Initiative—which would allow the “manufacture, sale, distribution and transportation of intoxicating liquors” throughout the state beginning on July 1, 2015—is subject to a statewide vote. That’s because attorney David Couch, the chair of pro-wet group Let Arkansas Decide, found that the number of signatures required for getting the measure on the state ballot was not much more than what it would’ve taken in just the three counties he had initially targeted.

Couch’s main rationale is economic. He cites a University of Arkansas study showing that if Faulkner, Craighead and Saline counties were wet—three of the state’s biggest counties, and ones where Walmart has expressed interest in selling booze —they would each generate an additional $12 million to $15 million in annual economic activity. And he estimates the total statewide benefit of going wet at an additional $100 million a year. But Couch has other motives, too.

“These dry counties make my state look kind of backward, and I don’t like that,” he says. “This is a much more modern approach to alcohol regulation.”

The amendment seemed to have signs of support in September. But the opposition appears to have grown in recent weeks. Part of that may be a huge cash infusion from Citizens for Local Rights, a group opposed to the amendment. The organization has raised $1.8 million compared to $200,000 for Couch’s Let Arkansas Decide.

Citizens for Local Rights is backed largely by liquor retailers in wet counties that want to keep out new competition. The Conway County Liquor Association, for example, has given the group $540,000. All six counties surrounding Conway are dry. The amendment has also been criticized by religious leaders wary of making alcohol more available.

Brian Richardson, chairman of Citizens for Local Rights, casts the issue as a matter of regional autonomy—no small claim in a vote that will come down partly to rural turnout. “It’s a badly written, overreaching amendment that guts local communities from being able to make decisions on a local level,” he says. “It’s letting people in the more populous counties determine this.”

Couch says his only poll found majority support for passage, but it was conducted last month. Richardson says his group’s final survey points to partial prohibition remaining in place, with 58% of respondents opposed to the amendment.

“I hate to jinx ourselves,” Richardson says. “But I think we’ll have a decisive victory.”

TIME Election 2014

Meet the Republican Who Might Run Massachusetts

Charlie Baker
Charlie Baker after a debate with Democratic candidate Martha Coakley in Boston on Oct. 21, 2014. Steven Senne—AP

Charlie Baker has made it a tight race by courting Democrats

Politicians abhor dead silence. But for 31 seconds, Charlie Baker sat on a debate stage, staring at the ceiling, and wracking his brain for the answer to the thorniest question he’s fielded since he jumped into the race for Massachusetts governor last year. The question: Name a current politician who’s a role model for you. “Um… um…. You know, you’re kind of stumping me here,” Baker said. After 31 seconds of stammering and silence, he finally ventured, “Um, how about Jeb Bush?”

Baker has been locked in a tight race for governor of Massachusetts for months. Recent polls have shown him leading his Democratic opponent, state Attorney General Martha Coakley, by as little as a single point. Still, the most uncomfortable Baker has been all campaign hasn’t been in the final, frenetic dash toward Election Day, but in that primary campaign debate in late August, when he was forced to identify himself with another Republican.

That’s because Baker is a throwback to a kind of Republican politics that no longer exists at any meaningful scale. It’s what has the former health insurance company CEO within reach of the State House in Boston. But it’s also what makes the final step so difficult to pull off.

Baker is running without much company. The only other Republican in Massachusetts with a shot at major office is Richard Tisei, a former state legislator, and Baker’s 2010 running mate, who’s in a tight race for Congress in the suburbs north of Boston. “I think running as a moderate anything is more complicated than it used to be. That’s the nature of our politics these days,” Baker says. “I think having a different set of viewpoints within the Republican party in New England, and nationally, is a good thing, not a bad thing.”

Democrats dominate Massachusetts politics. The state Republican Party claims less than 11% of all registered voters. Massachusetts hasn’t sent a Republican to the U.S. House of Representatives since 1994. The outgoing governor, Deval Patrick, stormed into office on a campaign that political strategist David Axelrod used to test-drive the themes that took Barack Obama to the White House in 2008. The state flirted briefly with Scott Brown, then turned on him so violently that he fled across the border, to New Hampshire. In Brown’s place, Massachusetts voters installed Senator Elizabeth Warren, a populist who’s pulling the entire Democratic party leftward.

Yet Massachusetts voters have a history of electing a certain kind of Republican to lead the state. The last two Democratic governors are Patrick and Michael Dukakis; between the two of them lies a 16-year stretch of Republican rule. The problem for Baker is that moderate New England Republicans have almost vanished as a political force.

Baker, 57, has long been the state GOP’s brightest star. He rose to political prominence two decades ago in the cabinet of then-Governor Bill Weld. Weld was a Republican who rode a tax revolt into office, but he was so far to the left on social issues that he won in liberal enclaves like Cambridge and Amherst. Baker’s politics echo Weld’s. As health secretary and then budget chief for Weld and his successor, Paul Cellucci, Baker earned a reputation as a sharp policy mind and number cruncher, but was not known as an ideologue.

“He’s the smartest guy in the room, but he doesn’t act like it,” says Jay Ash, the city manager of Chelsea, a small, heavily Central American community just north of Boston. “He’s inquisitive, and he doesn’t dismiss people’s views. He’s open and engaging on the issues.”

“I worked in an administration that was pretty successful in working across the aisle to get stuff done with Democrats,” Baker says. “A lot of our successes were because we had two teams on the field, competition and political engagement. Whether voters decide that’s what they want or not is going to be up to them. I certainly wanted to run a race built on that kind of message and approach.”

Ash and Baker met in the early 1990’s, when Chelsea was operating in state fiscal receivership. They’ve been friends since, yet Baker didn’t get Ash’s vote four years ago, when Baker made his first run for governor. Baker’s 2010 campaign was filled with stunts meant to generate voter outrage, like displaying a prop welfare card that said it could be swiped for booze and lottery tickets at taxpayer expense. The disgruntled turnout wasn’t enough and Baker lost to Patrick with 42% of the vote.

The Massachusetts governor’s race is a redemption run for both Baker and Coakley. Coakley lost the 2010 contest for Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat to Brown in spectacular fashion, and reporters are salivating over storylines about Coakley blowing another high-profile race against another Massachusetts Republican. Coakley has been a popular attorney general, though, and she’s run hard for governor. Their race is neck-and-neck less because Coakley has done something wrong, than because Baker has done a whole lot right.

Baker has managed to run for political office while mostly taking divisive politics off the table. He has beaten the drum on a few red meat Republican issues, like lowering taxes and hardening work rules for welfare. But the bulk of his campaign has been focused on education and economic opportunity, and in these areas, he’s driving a debate that’s less about political vision than it is about competence in managing government. He’s bent the race to his strengths, and made the contest a referendum on putting a policy wonk in the governor’s office.

Baker has also gone to lengths to play up his social liberalism, releasing campaign videos with his brother, who’s gay and married, and with his teenage daughter, who assures him on-camera, “You’re totally pro-choice and bipartisan.”

“Ideologically, he’s where the majority of people in Massachusetts are,” says Larry DiCara, a prominent Democratic attorney in Boston.

“In some states, he’d be a Democrat,” says Ash, who praises his friend’s current run. “He’s with Democrats and independents on social issues.”

Baker is also with Democrats in a more literal sense. On the trail, he has taken the fight to Coakley in the urban centers that normally hand Democrats lopsided vote margins. Baker is trying to raid the Democratic base, aggressively courting votes in Irish pubs and mill towns. He’s held over 150 campaign events in Boston — an unheard-of presence in a city where voters normally hang 40-plus-point losses on Republicans. Baker lost the city by 47 points in 2010; a recent WBUR poll had him cutting that deficit in half.

“You have to make the sale, but you can’t make the sale if you don’t show up,” Baker reasons.

And as he tries to close the deal, he’s doing it without much support from state Republicans. Massachusetts Democrats enjoy an enormous campaign volunteer base, the machinery of organized labor, and star power in Washington, DC. As the campaign entered the home stretch, Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Vice President Joe Biden all swung through to rally the party faithful for Coakley. Weld, who’s now working as a rainmaker at a Boston law firm, is the closest thing Baker has had to a star campaign surrogate.

Baker’s party doesn’t have the bodies to compete with Democrats on the grassroots level. (His campaign has knocked on 270,000 doors this election cycle, a huge number for a Massachusetts Republican; Elizabeth Warren’s campaign hit 240,000 doors in a single weekend two years ago.) But he has received one major outside boost: the Republican Governors Association PAC has spent more than $12 million on the race, over two-and-half times what they spent on the 2010 campaign and more than the combined spending of Baker and Coakley’s own campaigns.

But national Republicans will be hard-pressed to find broader lessons. If Baker wins, it will be because he won over Democratic voters and narrowed the daylight between his partisans, and Coakley’s. That isn’t a formula that has legs far outside Boston.

TIME Election 2014

Why You Might Not Want to Take a Selfie at Your Polling Place

APTOPIX America Votes
Voters fill out their ballots in a gym on election day at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church on Nov. 4, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. Mike Groll—AP

It's against the law in 35 states, but it's rarely enforced

Everyone from Shepard Fairey to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is encouraging voters to take a selfie at the ballot box today. But in most states, following their advice could send you to jail.

According to the Digital Media Law Project, filming or photographing your marked ballot is illegal in 35 states. The law in Ohio, for example, prohibits voters from displaying their ballots “with the apparent intention of letting it be known how the elector is about to vote” or “exhibiting any ticket or ballot the elector tends to cast.”

Granted, these laws were implemented before social media—and the related desire to share every quotidian moment in your day—became a thing. Designed to prevent people from selling their votes, the laws are rarely enforced.

However, New Hampshire did institute an updated law on September 1 that specifically prohibits sharing ballot photos on social media, and according to Reuters, the Office of the New Hampshire Secretary of State is already investigating suspected violations from the September 9 primary.

(On a related note, that free latte that you got for showing your “I Voted” sticker is also technically illegal.)

So go ahead and take a picture of yourself getting ready to vote and pick up a free cup of Joe on the house. Just try to keep the actual ballot off of Instagram.

TIME movies

5 Election Comedies to Get You Ready for the Polls

Because it's our civic duty to laugh

If Election Day were a comedy, this is how it would play out: One candidate would be unequivocally good, the other ruthlessly evil. Political operatives would control the play-by-play from a corner office far from the action. An unexpected candidate would emerge from nowhere in the eleventh hour, throwing the race into a tizzy. The deserving candidate would lose by a tight margin, but when the evil candidate’s fraud is revealed, the rightful victor would take the throne. Bad guys out, good guys in.

But Election Day is not a comedy, and good and evil aren’t two poles separated by an impossible distance. Good isn’t always as good as it purports to be. Good, alas, often loses. It’s refreshing, though, to visit a world as simple as the one these movies imagine. Perhaps you’re a jaded would-be voter in need of convincing that some good might come from pulling that ancient lever, or maybe you long to escape the disappointment of your candidate’s certain defeat, and find yourself instead enveloped in the warmth of Chris Farley’s glow.

Either way, here are five election comedies to motivate you, console you, and get you ready for the polls on Election Day.

Black Sheep (1996)

Black Sheep belongs to a class of movies that strikes you as pure comedic genius when you’re 12 and senseless drivel once your tastes have matured. But if you can tap into whatever lingering appreciation you have for scatological humor, it’s worth watching if only to spend 87 minutes with Chris Farley. Largely a vehicle for Farley’s brutishly brilliant physical comedy, Black Sheep has many of the elements of a typical election flick. Revolving around Farley’s Mike Donnelly, hapless kid brother to Washington gubernatorial candidate Al Donnelly, the movie pits familial love against political ambitions. Mike’s efforts to help the campaign unfailingly result in public embarrassment, threatening Al’s chances of success.

Like many in the genre, the movie focuses more on the campaign than the election itself. Donnelly is pure goodness, his dedication to his brother matched only by his concern for his would-be constituents. Incumbent Governor Evelyn Tracy is pure evil, sporting a win-at-all-costs mentality that counts fraud and slander among its tactics. It’s an absurd comedy of errors in which the younger Donnelly can’t seem to catch a break, but nestled between the pratfalls and the gags is one ingredient that often runs in short supply at the polls: just a little bit of heart.

Wag the Dog (1997)

The media is as crucial to the outcome of an election as its candidates’ campaigns, and Wag the Dog shows just how powerful the news can be — even when it’s fake. Like many good election movies, and a fair share of actual elections, this one revolves around a sex scandal. The sitting president is accused, less than two weeks before the election, of sexually assaulting a young girl. To distract from the scandal and inspire patriotism among voters, the White House hires spin-doctor Conrad Brean (Robert de Niro), who enlists Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) to stage a fake war with Albania.

Wag the Dog is intelligent satire in contrast to Black Sheep’s inane Looney Toon-esque shenanigans. Released one month before the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the movie had Roger Ebert perceptively noting, “It is getting harder and harder for satire to stay ahead of reality.” Rather than dishing up an inspiring good-guys-win narrative, it reminds the audience — American voters — how gullible we can be in the face of an effective media campaign. “Why does a dog wag its tail?” the opening credits ask. “Because a dog is smarter than its tail. If the tail were smarter, the tail would wag the dog.” In Wag the Dog, we are the brainless tail, ever at the whim of the scheming dog.

Election (1999)

“Winning isn’t everything,” says Tracy Flick. “Win or lose, ethical conduct is the most important thing.” Reese Witherspoon’s Flick is desperate for political glory in this portrayal of a viciously contested race for student council president. For a story about student government, it has all the trappings of a full-grown adult election: sex scandals and personal vendettas, witch hunts and sabotage. Blaming Tracy for her part in an affair that got his best friend fired, popular teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) will do anything to take her down. His meddling leads to a contest that stands in stark contrast to the ideals he espouses in his social studies class.

Rotating between narrators, director Alexander Payne explores Tracy’s statement: Is ethical conduct more important than victory? And does it guarantee victory, or all but rule it out? Witherspoon delivers one of her most memorable roles as the type-A Flick, who sees victory as her destiny, and destiny as inescapable.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Napoleon Dynamite may be a geek movie before it is an election movie, but the election between Pedro Sánchez (Efren Ramirez) and Summer Wheatley (Haylie Duff) plays a central role in the nerdy protagonists’ victory over their high school’s popular posse. Pedro is a transfer student whom Napoleon befriends and supports in his campaign for school president. He has the charisma of a sloth in a coma, always donning a blank stare above his bolo tie. His opponent, Summer, is equally uninspiring, banking on her social status to deliver her to victory.

Pedro’s election speech leaves much to be desired. When he promises the students, “If you vote for me, all of your wildest dreams will come true,” his tone is like that of a doctor delivering bad news. But a vote for Pedro is less a vote for change than it is a symbol of the underdog getting his due, a nerd with no ideas defeating a cheerleader with no ideas. Many a voter will sigh, waiting in line to cast her ballot, that she’s choosing the lesser of two evils, the better option between two mediocre choices. Napoleon Dynamite asks us to make this choice — and to compensate for its candidates’ lack of imagination, it gave us the dance scene of the decade.

The Campaign (2012)

The Campaign opens with a quote from Ross Perot, a presidential candidate perhaps best remembered for the size of his ears. “War has rules. Mud wrestling has rules. Politics has no rules.” And so the tone is set for opponents Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) and Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), an incumbent and an underdog vying for one seat in Congress. The Campaign offers a parody of modern elections that rings true for all its hyperbole. Gains in the polls are driven by strong hair and the frequency with which a candidate invokes America, Jesus and Freedom. Pandering is the rule, as Brady tells every group he meets — troops, farmers, audio installation specialists, and Filipino tilt-a-whirl operators — that they are the backbone of America.

In its best moments — when it’s not resorting to fat jokes and bathroom humor — The Campaign is funny because it’s so familiar. Big money decides who runs and what they stand for. Campaign managers shape candidates’ images, from their wives’ hairstyles to the eagle-inspired artwork adorning their living rooms. And a significant focus on attack ads, amplifying a particle of dirt into a full-blown dust storm, distracts from the time candidates spend discussing what they actually stand for. It would be farfetched to call The Campaign a cinematic feat. But it does make us consider the just-discernable line between reality and farce.

TIME Election 2014

Here Are the 7 Most Memorable Political Ads of 2014

From castrating hogs to wrestling alligators

More than 900,000 campaign ads aired on TV this election cycle just in races for the U.S. Senate alone. Given the sheer volume, then, it’s amazing that any of them break through the clutter.

Some ads got attention for being scary, desperate or just outright dishonest. But others managed to break through by being funny — intentionally or not — or clever or hitting the viewers’ emotions just right.

Here’s a look at seven of the most memorable ads of the 2014 elections.

1. Joni Ernst “Squeal”

“I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.” Joni Ernst’s ballsy first TV ad launched her from a relative unknown to the Republican Senate candidate in Iowa and a political name on the national stage. According to the Washington Post, the ad got 400,000 views in its first three days on YouTube. Now, seven months later, she’s still known as the candidate who used to castrate pigs.

2. Terri Lynn Land “Really?”

Michigan Republican Senate hopeful Terri Lynn Land’s first TV ad was most unusual for what it did not say, and became memorable for all the wrong reasons. Mocking the idea that she was part of a “war on women,” Land asks viewers to “think about that for a moment” while she sips her coffee for an agonizingly slow 12 seconds of silence. The ad was meant to be sarcastic and clever, but it was roundly ridiculed, even by members of Land’s own party.

3. David Perdue “Outsider”

Republican David Perdue’s first ad in the Georgia Senate race accused various national politicians of being crybabies by portraying them as actual babies. While criticizing Congress for being childish and ineffectual isn’t a groundbreaking campaign strategy, the image of a crying infant sucking on a stethoscope with “Paul” on his shirt (meaning Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist) certainly stuck with viewers.

4. Mitch McConnell “Home”

An ad for Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell went against the grain. Not only was it a full minute long (an eternity in TV ad time), but it also skipped the hot-button issues to focus on a Kentucky woman who got help from McConnell in getting her daughter back from an ex-husband. “I can’t even talk about him without getting emotional,” she says of McConnell as her eyes fill with tears. The emotionally affecting ad was aimed at softening the image of the often-stiff pol, and it worked.

5. Rob Maness “Gator”

Every election, candidates try to signify their local ties with a quirky hobby. This time, it was Alaska Sen. Mark Begich riding a snowmobile and West Virginia state Senate candidate Duane Zobrist kayaking and engaging in some light falconry. But neither holds a candle to Louisiana Senate candidate Rob Maness, who deftly bound the jaws of an alligator while making an extended metaphor about career politicians in Washington in this ad.

6. Alison Lundergan Grimes “Skeet Shooting”

These days, when a candidate says they’re shooting an ad, you have to wonder if they mean it literally. Ever since West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin won election with an ad where he shot a bull’s eye at a cap and trade bill, candidates have been taking up arms. The most memorable this time around was Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who went skeet-shooting to showcase her differences with President Barack Obama. The ad was a two-fer, since she also poked fun at McConnell’s own awkward gun handling.

7. J.D. Winteregg “When The Moment Is Right”

OK, so technically this was a viral video and not really an ad. And yes, it makes a pretty tacky joke about Speaker John Boehner’s last name, saying he has a case of “electile dysfunction.” But considering the odds facing Republican J.D. Winteregg, the fact that anyone at all was talking about this goofy video shows that the strategy worked. Winteregg got only 23% in the GOP primary, though, so Boehner got the last laugh.

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