Most Awkward TV Ads From Hick and Cory’s Excellent Senatorial Adventure

Cory Gardner and John Hickenlooper being excellent to each other in their October 9 debate.
Cory Gardner and John Hickenlooper being excellent to each other in their October 9 debate. youtube
In an election year packed with political ads, some TV bits will be hits, while others will miss their mark badly. And during the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Senator Cory Gardner and former Governor John Hickenlooper, there have been for fewer hits than misses.

Case in point: the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s ad this summer using the deadly gas explosion in Firestone to blithely connect that tragedy to Hickenlooper’s tenure as governor. Gardner, who was the NSRC chair in the 2018 election cycle, finally called for an end to the ad's run after criticism reached the media, though he added that he had no way to stop it.

There haven’t been many missteps that bad recently, but viewers have still been subjected to cringe-worthy moments. Some come from commercials paid for by the actual campaigns, and others are courtesy the dark money that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse so effectively explained at this week’s Supreme Court justice hearings…also known as the 2020 prequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.

Here are ten of the hits and misses:

John Hickenlooper: Was This Ad Made in 2019?

This pro-Hick ad is actually pretty effective, with Governor Jared Polis standing up for his Democratic colleague and calling out the (many) attacks against Hickenlooper as the ridiculousness that they are. It's sincere and kind and statesmanlike, which are three things for which the Trump/McConnell era of American politics will never be known. So it's refreshing in that sense...but that last shot with Polis and Hick smiling, arms crossed, shoulder-to-shoulder? What the hell, fellas? Where are your masks? Where's the six-foot distance? I mean, sure, you're outside, but that doesn't excuse the fact that this is 2020, and you're running against Trumpism and hypocritical leadership. Sigh.

John Hickenlooper: Anti-Vacation

There are a lot of attacks in this ad approved by Hick — and most of them are true. Gardner’s record on COVID-19 response is right in line with Trump’s — which is to say feckless, at best. Criticizing Cory for complaining about governmental non-response to the financial emergency that the pandemic has created in so many American households and then doing nothing about it? Totally valid. But don’t make up some crap about him being on vacation too much. That's true about Trump, sure, but unsubstantiated in Cory’s case. And it's not smart to come across as an opponent of fishing, Hick. The piscatory lobby is full of some real movers and shakers.

John Hickenlooper Gets Into Mom’s Makeup Drawer

It’s one thing for a candidate to try to act like he's one of the family. It’s another to remind you of your great-aunt with the cough drops in her purse. I don’t even know what Hick is talking about here, because all I can think about is lipstick. Lipstick. LIPSTICK.

Hickenlooper Borrows “Cardboard Cory”

John Hickenlooper is known to be sort of an awkward guy, kind of a klutz. That’s just his brand of aw-shucks politics. And it's on full display in this ad, as he jerks around a debate set so frenetically that the camerawork can’t even keep up. But Hick shrewdly plays off the “Cardboard Cory” grassroots movement that became a documentary without really coming out and mentioning it. Instead, he uses his own figures of the Republican candidate — and it's not a flattering pose for Cory, who looks a little lifeless and slack-jawed, like a GOP sex doll that no one wants — to point out that Gardner is on record as saying one thing and doing another. Which is pretty much the entire Republican platform in 2020.

Hickenlooper’s Dark Money Political Patron: The Lincoln Project

The Lincoln Project has gotten a lot of time in the spotlight this election season, since it’s a rare sort of phenomenon: a group of disgruntled former GOP stalwarts disgusted with the direction that Trump has taken their (in some cases, former) party. Their commercials have gained a lot of traction because they’re good, especially in recent months. But early in 2020, one of their first forays into senatorial politics was to put up this ad against Cory Gardner. John Hickenlooper hadn't even won the primary yet, which is why it ends with the threat that if Cory Gardner can’t do his job — namely representing the state, and not the care and feeding of Trump's ego — "Colorado will find someone who will.” All well and good, Lincoln Project, but maybe avoid calling the guy “small” and “impotent” at the same time? Honestly, the last thing America needs at this point is more dick references in its political discourse.

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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen