edited by Eric M. Appleman May 6, 2009

Eugene Hedlund, a mortgage broker in Irvine, California, formed 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 PAC.  In Sept. 2008 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, post-convention stage.

Where 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 venture capitalist.

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 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.

Hedlund writes:

"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 reflect the candid, unrehearsed, sometimes humorous nature of the interviews, and the honesty of the sentiments expressed therein.  The feel of Local 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. 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. 

Hedlund observes:

"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: Anjali Taneja "Alicia Dwyer, Filmmaker for Local Voices for Obama." LAist, Oct. 27, 2008.
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Copyright © 2009  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action