SUNRISE, Fla. – Barack Obama took the unusual step Wednesday of making the final pitch for his candidacy on a smoothly produced infomercial that aired across network and cable television.
The 30-minute broadcast weaved together American iconography – images of amber waves of grain, pickup trucks and American flags – with portraits of iconic voters, testimonials from politicians and one business figure, footage of Obama speeches and direct appeals from the candidate.
The ad cut to a live shot of Obama at a rally here for the last two minutes, where he told an arena packed to the rafters that “the time for change has come.”
“In six days, we can choose to invest in health care for our families, and education for our kids, and renewable energy for our future,” said Obama with vice presidential nominee, Joe Biden, at his side. “In six days, we can choose hope over fear, unity over division, the promise of change over the power of the status quo. In six days, we can come together as one nation, and one people, and once more choose our better history."
In a campaign that has made a practice of grand gestures, the broadcast marked a new milepost along an audacious path that Obama hopes will take him to the White House. He paid more than $4 million to blanket the primetime airwaves with an ad that cast him as a bipartisan healer and a family man, a commonsense politician and an American son with Kansas roots.
The imagery of Obama with his head down and his back to the camera was Kennedyesque, but the solemn symphonic strains invoked the heartland spirit of Reagan.
The entire production aimed for one end: to convince voters that Obama isn’t risky, but ready to move into the Oval Office.
“When I read his economic plan, and I saw the people endorsing it and all the new ideas – Warren Buffett and others – I thought ‘this is the right plan for America,’” said Eric Schmidt, chief executive officer of Google, the only private-sector figure featured in the ad.
Schmidt was one of eight notable figures who sought to give voters a level of comfort – “permission,” as Obama aides often say – to vote for him.
Obama acted less as a protagonist than a narrator, using snapshots of voters – a white family from suburban Missouri, a devout Christian African-American couple from Ohio, a Hispanic family from New Mexico and an autoworker from Kentucky – to illustrate how his plans would affect them.
When Obama spoke directly to the camera, he listed his policy proposals from an office that vaguely resembled the one he would occupy in the White House. He chose not to delve into too many specifics of his plans, which observers say may ultimately need to be curtailed because of the financial crisis the next president will inherit.
The ad moved seamlessly at the end to a live shot of Obama speaking to 20,000 people in this key battleground state. A production crew worked five cameras, including one that swooped into a crowd on the arena floor. A large flat screen TV in front of the media risers counted down the time to his live shot.
Obama’s move to blanket multiple channels less than a week before the election was made possible by his decision to forgo participation in the public financing system for presidential campaigns. The campaign spent between $4 million and $5 million to air the ad on NBC, CBS, Fox News and several other cable channels.
McCain stayed within the public financing system, and has been limited to a budget of $85 million. In contrast, Obama raised $150 million in September alone.
Appearing Wednesday on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” McCain said the infomercial was “paid for with broken promises.”
Obama “didn’t tell the American people the truth” when he claimed during the primary that he would negotiate in good faith on a course to public financing, he said.
“You tell me the next time now a presidential candidate will take public financing when Sen. Obama has shown you can raise millions of dollars,” McCain said.
McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds followed up after the ad aired: “As anyone who has bought anything from an infomercial knows, the sales-job is always better than the product. Buyer beware.”
Ben Smith contributed to this story.