John Dennis featured in Wall Street Journal


LOS ANGELES—John Dennis, a Republican candidate for Congress, shimmies across a sound stage here, trying to look debonair. But his tuxedo is too tight, a hovering make-up artist keeps powdering his nose – and frankly, he feels a bit ridiculous.

“This could go horribly wrong,” Mr. Dennis mutters.

Gamely, he tries the tricky dance moves again. After all, his efforts—part of a daylong video shoot with a wacky assortment of extras like a sultry bartender and shrill Dr. Evil—might pay off on YouTube.

Loopy online videos have become a hallmark of this midterm election. Candidates desperate for attention are airing Internet ads that have them cavorting with Frankenstein, confronting the Founding Fathers—or, in the case of Mr. Dennis, channeling James Bond.

John Dennis

It’s not clear such gimmicks bring in votes. But they boost name recognition. And their daring spirit appeals to candidates who say this election cycle is all about thumbing a nose at the establishment.

“This year is not about playing it safe,” says Mattie Fein, a Republican Congressional candidate who stars in a new online video that manages to shoehorn the Iranian nuclear threat into a parody of the Mel Brooks film “Young Frankenstein.”

Even the most popular political videos draw just a fraction of the online views racked up by YouTube classics like “Charlie bit my finger—again!” a sibling spat that has been viewed more than 225 million times.

But there is a market for the stuff. Nearly a third of adults who use the Internet watch political videos, according to the Pew Research Center. A Pew poll taken during the 2008 campaign found that 18- to 29-year-olds turn to YouTube for elections updates more often than candidate websites or online newspapers.

Plus, strategists say online videos give off a trendy vibe that yard signs just can’t match. “It can give your campaign a bit of a personality,” says Julie Soderlund, deputy campaign manager for Carly Fiorina, the GOP Senate nominee in California. Ms. Fiorina won Internet fame for a bizarre online ad called “Demon Sheep,” which depicted a primary opponent as a red-eyed wolf terrorizing a flock of happy livestock.

Mike Weinstein knew precious little of this world when he asked his son, Scott Leigh, to come up with a jingle for his re-election campaign to the Florida legislature.

Mr. Leigh, who writes educational children’s songs for a living, went all out. He produced a video featuring fresh-faced teens flipping cartwheels and swaying rapturously to lyrics like, “Standing up for you and me / Fixing our econ-o-my.”

To read more, visit: