If you haven’t seen the “Blockhead Ad” by now, you must live underneath a block. The spot, which is paid for by the Fung for Governor Campaign, is the first official attack ad of the season. It takes on Allan Fung’s primary opponent, Ken Block, and his supporters for being “blockheads.”
The ad is creatively done and clever but it is also specifically harsh on Block and his voters and it comes a bit early on in the race for an attack ad. The Fung Campaign is likely taking the strategy “punch or be punched,” although the Block Campaign is yet to roll out any sort of major marketing strategy, let alone any major public punches aside from off the cuff remarks on talk radio and in the paper.
Block now has the chance to play the victim card and blame the Fung Campaign for playing dirty and going over the top, meanwhile, Fung has to answer to accusations that he is running scared in the primary and that he has gotten overly negative. The ad is witty but is pretty negative for an ad this early in the race. Fung’s biggest struggle with such a negative ad is that Block supporters may become disenfranchised and if Fung does prevail through the primary, those supporters may consider an alternative candidate like Gina Raimondo or Angel Taveras.
The commercial points to Block’s voting record, where he voted for Obama, twice. It also accuses Block of supporting Obamacare, something the Block campaign says is inaccurate. Whether Block specifically supported Obamacare or not, the Fung Campaign can point to Block’s support of Obama after the Obamacare bill was passed as a stamp of approval. It remains to be seen how these attacks will play in the general public since Block is like the majority of Rhode Islanders, (but not the majority of Republicans), in his support of Obama.
The ad also accuses Block of being an “economic adviser to Chafee,” now I’m not like the guys at Politifact check, but this seems like a gross exaggeration. Block volunteered his services to Governor Chafee at the cost of $1. He helped look at the food stamp system for fraud and abuse. Problem is after the initial ‘food stamp sting’ press conference that Block was present at, it seems Chafee did not do much more with Block’s ideas and suggestions. Arguably, the politician has to heed your advice in order for you to be an advisor. Either way, the claim in the commercial is likely to gain some traction for the Fung Campaign because most people only retain a small amount of news.
The commercial has the potential to be highly effective. Most people forget that the Republican Party is a lot larger then the 25 people who incessantly call into talk radio and the 200 delegates of the party. Many of the 20,000 potential Republican voters are relying on messaging from the candidates to become informed. Although, Fung likely helped Block increase his name recognition. Sometimes those who are immersed in politics forget how little the average person pays attention. Not every Republican voter is really sure who Block is, and certainly Democrat and unaffiliated voters are not all familiar with the former moderate candidate.
Block’s supporter’s response to the ad was a bit clever as well; they have chosen to embrace the term “blockhead.” A new twitter hash tag and handle has been started #Imablockhead and @blockheadandglad; an “IMABLOCK HEAD” Facebook account has also been started. Additionally Block supporters have begun changing their Facebook profile pictures to pictures of them with square heads; “block heads.” I wonder if there is an app for that?
Meanwhile, this ad is a sure sign that things are bound to get uglier in this primary. When someone throws mud, everyone ends up dirty; the candidate who put their hands in mud and the candidate who is on the receiving end of the blow. The question is will Block take this opportunity and fire back at Fung and use the alleged mismanagement of the Cranston Police Department, will he ignore the attacks all together, or will he denounce the attacks while taking the moral high road with his own campaign.
Fundraising is most certainly up for the Block campaign considering supporters have probably responded to the negativity by attempting to boost their guy, so the ad is not all bad for Block. On ther other hand, Fung supporters who are excited by the ad have most likely also increased their donations.
A lot of people were surprised to see Fung get so tough and even a little mean. Fung is showing a new cutthroat side of himself. Despite criticisms of the ad, we can all rest assured that it is much better suited than the 2012 Riley ad that pictured Congressman Jim Langevin as a shark.
@Deedequattro Dee DeQuattro is the assignment desk manager and digital news coordinator for ABC6. She studied politics and communications and holds a master's degree from Providence College. Follow her on twitter @deedequattro and log on to ABC6 .com for her latest in depth coverage of politics and news.