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A service for political professionals · Monday, February 26, 2024 · 691,486,822 Articles · 3+ Million Readers

Iconic TV Political Ads and Their Influence on Elections

February 8, 2024
In late October 1987, People for the American Way, the political action group created by Norman Lear to combat the extreme right-wing, asked me if I had time to produce a TV ad opposing Robert Bork’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

After a conversation with Lear, I quickly wrote a script. Lear approved it and recruited Gregory Peck as the narrator.

I raced to Capitol Hill with my camera crew. Within two days the ad was on TV. That was on a Thursday. On Saturday, the White House denounced the ad, a sure sign that it was having the desired impact. A week later, the U.S. Senate voted 42-58 to reject the Bork nomination. Was my ad responsible for Bork’s rejection? No. But by dramatizing the reason for his defeat, that vote became more publicly understandable, and less a political liability for senators who opposed him.

With Norman Lear’s recent death, and all the deserved accolades he’s been receiving since, I’ve had the Bork experience on my mind.

So, the other day I searched the Internet to see if my ad was there. And it is, looking dated by the 36 years of media improvements since, a bit faded by time and multiple re-recorded versions. But still, one of my most satisfying experiences working for political candidates and causes.

If you have a minute, take a look:

Classic Political Ads That Shaped Elections

1984 Mitch McConnell Spot

While searching for my Bork ad, I found a few other political classics. Like this one that contributed to Mitch McConnell’s first election to the U.S. Senate in 1984 when he defeated a Democratic incumbent. It’s a great example of how creative humor can be a devastating political weapon. Watch the ad:

1976 Malcolm Wallop U.S. Senate Campaign

Here’s another of my all-time favorites for its creativity and impact. The Senate had just approved a raft of environmental protection acts. The incumbent Wyoming senator at the time, Pat McGee (yes, Wyoming used to elect Democrats) voted for them. Republican opponent Malcolm Wallop responded with this ad:

LBJ 1964 Presidential Campaign Commercial

Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 “Daisy” ad ( is no doubt the most famous political ad of all time. Notice, in his narration, Johnson doesn’t mention Barry Goldwater, his Republican opponent. But Goldwater’s vigorous objection to the ad left no doubt that he was the target of the message.

The First Political Ad on TV
“I like Ike" from Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) vs. Adlai Stevenson II (D) 1952
Finally, a classic in any political ad library. The first use of Madison Avenue-style TV advertising to elect a president. Eisenhower in 1952:

Eisenhower’s opponent, Adlai Stevenson, was appalled. He said using jingles to influence a decision as serious as the election of the president of the United States was destined to backfire. “This isn’t a soap opera. This isn’t Ivory Soap versus Palmolive,” he said.

By the end the campaign, Stevenson was on TV with his own jingle: “Madly for Adlai.” Unfortunately, ever since, the serious decision of electing people HAS too often degenerated into the worst versions of Ivory versus Palmolive.

Joe Rothstein is a political strategist and media producer who worked in more than 200 campaigns for political office and political causes. He also has served as editor of the Anchorage Daily News and as an adjunct professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. He has a master's degree in journalism from UCLA. Mr. Rothstein is the author of award-winning political thrillers, The Latina President and the Conspiracy to Destroy Her, The Salvation Project, and The Moment of Menace. For more information, please visit his website at