Richard Madaleno isn’t the only candidate to call out Donald Trump in a TV ad. But the Maryland state senator’s latest ad in his campaign for governor takes an unusual turn when he then kisses his husband.
“Take that, Trump,” he says.
Madaleno’s ad went viral, as have a number of other political ads from Democratic candidates this year which have taken direct aim at the president in ways you might call trolling.
Another Democrat vying to be governor of Maryland, Krish Vignarajah, is pictured breastfeeding her daughter in her viral campaign ad. It presents as an obvious dig against the president, who once called a female lawyer “disgusting” during a court hearing because she held a breast pump and asked for a brief break.
Richard Painter, a former ethics lawyer in the Bush Administration running for U.S. Senate as a Democrat in Minnesota, went for a more metaphorical route, standing in front of a literal dumpster fire in his ad.
“There is an inferno raging in Washington,” says Painter, who is calling for impeaching Trump as part of his campaign. “But here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, we know how to put out a fire,” before a sheet of water extinguishes the blaze.
These marketing techniques are deliberate attempts by the candidates to attract voters who systematically oppose Trump to vote in the primaries, which historically, have low voter turnout, says Stella Rouse, the director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland.
“Obviously, if the presidential election had gone differently, we might not be seeing these same themes,” Rouse said.
Madaleno told TIME he’s not worried about alienating voters who may be turned away from his public display of affection.
“It was the most I had a chance to kiss my husband in a year — as we did multiple takes,” he said. “To me, it’s always important to be who you are, to let the public know who you are and to demonstrate you are going to be transparent and honest with them. I think the ad does that.”
Vignarajah echoed the sentiment of showing voters her authentic self.
“It was no accident,” she said. “It was planned so that I could show my real life as a mom. The truth is this is what it looks like when moms across the nation work, run for office and lead.”
She said breastfeeding her daughter on camera should not be what shocks viewers and voters.
“If anything is jolting about the ad, it should be that today, there are no women in any of Maryland’s 14 statewide or federally elected offices. I want people to pay attention to that lack of women,” she said.
Former White House communications director and senior adviser to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, Anita Dunn, said the approaches these candidates are using aren’t entirely revolutionary, however.
“These are introductory ads for candidates who aren’t very well known, who need to tell people something important about them that helps differentiate themselves from the rest of the field and helps them to stand out,” Dunn said. “That’s nothing new in political advertising.”
Madaleno and Vignarajah will face tough competition in their primary race on June 26. In addition to their candidacies, six other Democrats will compete for the nomination to represent their party against incumbent Larry Hogan in the general election in November.
A poll conducted in April showed a 69% approval for Hogan, despite him being a Republican in an overwhelmingly blue state. Painter, who is facing incumbent Sen. Tina Smith, will have to wait until Minnesota’s mid-August primary to learn his fate.
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