This year’s best political attack ads

IN statewide politics, the ad’s the thing. If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be out there pitching for Coca-Cola or some pol or having his words co-opted.

At least that’s the conventional wisdom.

I was buoyed by recent letter writers who said voters should read the upcoming ballot measures for themselves and study the candidates’ statements instead of making up their minds on the basis of 30-second attack ads.

I agree. And our editorial board has spent a lot of time doing just that. You can find our recommendations on our website (see Election 2010 and click “Special Section” for a list of Our View endorsements) and look for more recaps Sunday in the newspaper.
But if you can’t beat them, you join them. So here’s my quick look at effective TV ads. They get my two levers up rating:

1. The Schwarzenegger-Whitman echo. It starts with Arnold saying: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Then it shows Meg Whitman saying the exact same thing (except she says “hoping for different results.”) The ad goes on, with Whitman parroting Arnold’s worn-out cliches, including: “I don’t owe anyone anything,” “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem” and “We need to run it like a business.” The ad ends with an excerpt from our sister newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News: “We tried that. It didn’t work.” Very effective.

2. Meg’s life story. New ad shows the GOP candidate for governor and her husband, and in a voiceover she says when she moved to California 30 years ago, “anything was possible in this state.” With some polls showing she’s trailing by 13 points, it comes off as a little desperate. But more ads like this instead of what I call her platitudes ads (“Let’s get California working!”) would’ve helped her. After $140 million of her own money, voters still don’t know who Meg Whitman is. One caveat: Brown’s ad folks trumped her by running a counter-ad using her own words against her. The ad shows a TV image from the ad and when Whitman says “You know 30 years ago, anything was possible in this state” a text appears that reads: “Who was governor 30 years ago?” After a short pause, the words “Jerry Brown” appears, followed by how he “cut waste” and “got rid of the governor’s mansion and the limousine” back when he was governor from 1975-1983. Ouch.

3. New anti-incumbency ad against Barbara Boxer. “It’s the day after the election, Nov. 3, 2010, and Barbara Boxer is still in the Senate. Nothing has changed.” The ad goes on to suggest that voting for incumbent Barbara Boxer would continue the same old congressional gridlock and back-room shenanigans. Very effective. I’m wondering why the GOP in California did not use this direct but effective message more often. Perhaps they didn’t want to come out for “change.”

4. Simple choice: Yes on Prop. 20/No on Prop. 27 radio ad. My favorite of the election season. You hear a husband and wife talking while poring over the voters’ guide about how “there are a lot of propositions to study.” The wife says: “Yes, but I think there is one simple choice: Yes on Prop. 20.” He says: “So the commission draws fair districts for Congress… and the politicians will finally have to compete for our votes. … So yes on 20 gives power to the voters, not the politicians. I guess that is a simple choice.”

Honorable mention: Kamala Harris ad showing Steve Cooley saying he’ll take his new salary and his retirement pension if he wins the AG spot; the handsome Gavin Newsom standing in front of a pristine beach with white caps on the Pacific in the background talking about protecting the Golden State’s environment; Treasurer Bill Lockyer giving his “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” meets Rodney “why can’t we all get along” King speech to a jaded, partisan, dysfunctional Legislature.

There’s more. A lot more. But you only have to stand it for four more days. Until then, the mute button is your friend.


The measure of a triathlete’s heart

READY to be inspired?

I thought a good change of pace from all the candidate yammering and the he-said, she-said political ads ping-ponging off the air waves would be a column about a young guy whose goal is to finish Sunday’s Los Angeles Triathlon in under three hours.

I used to think that all these marathoners and extreme athletes were obsessed with themselves or are looking for the ultimate runner’s high.

Lutz Mueller, 26, proved me wrong. He’s more about family, friends and encouraging others to accomplish their goals.

I was at a Chinese restaurant with a friend who was friends with Mueller and as we passed the dishes around, he started eating, well, a lot of food, and talking about how he’s bulking up for his intense training.

Mueller, at 5 feet 6 inches and 145 pounds, isn’t a big guy, so consuming double portions was not something in his routine. I thought: I wish I had this problem!

During the summer, he would eat two to three times more than normal. The carb-loading was necessary to get him through runs and bike rides around the Rose Bowl as well as swims in the Aquatic Center. On double training days, he would burn 1,500 to 2,000 calories each day. “I am normally not a big eater. But I had to eat more than my stomach was ready to accept. I don’t enjoy stuffing myself so much. But when I didn’t, I’d get a headache,” Mueller told me.

Again, I wish I had this problem. I’m trying to lose 20 pounds by avoiding carbs.

Mueller is confident he can meet his goal. That would be finishing the following in less than three hours: a 1,500-meter swim (about 0.9 miles) in the Pacific Ocean at Venice Beach, followed immediately by a 40-kilometer bicycle ride (about 24.8 miles) through Los Angeles, followed by a 10-kilometer (about 6 miles) run. Sunday’s race ends at LA Live! across from Staples Center.

The three elements calibrated by Olympic triathlon standards are ordered that way for a reason. “If you put the swimming at the end, you’ll have a lot of people drowning,” he said, laughing.

Mueller’s take on all this is modest, low-key. He is not the bragging type. That impressed me as well. But Mueller mentioned to me how this is not all about him, it is about getting closer to those people he loves, especially his wife, Donna.
“I was surprised how mental, how emotional (training) is as well as physical. We are one connected mechanism,” he said.

He loves it when Donna helps him train. “My favorite training sessions are when Donna rides her bike and I run behind her. It is really cool to have someone there,” he said.
“It has to do with mental strength. You can’t quit. Plus you have a distraction. Also, it is comforting to have somebody there … you can push yourself more .. you feel supported.”
Training for Sunday’s triathlon came naturally to him. His other hobby is mountaineering. He and his buddies have climbed to the summits of Mt. Whitney and the North Palisade. He is also trained in the martial art of taekwondo.

The Pasadena resident, who grew up in Los Gatos, a bedroom community in Northern California, earned a degree in mechanical engineering from UC Santa Barbara and now works as a project engineer at The Pilot Group in Monrovia. He always bikes to work. When he learned some co-workers swam at the Duarte Recreation Center during the lunch hour, he joined them. That’s two of the three covered. Add to that his daily runs and you’ve got the making of a triathlete.

Mueller said a successful long-distance athlete must learn to push himself “harder than your body wants to go.” He said most people can learn to do it, no matter their body type or age. It starts with baby steps of training.

Now that he’s ready, he took this week off to rest his muscles. It was the only time I could catch up with him. I asked him what is the first thing he’ll be thinking Sunday morning when he hits the water in Venice Beach.

“It will probably be like, damn, this is very cold,” he said, smiling.