Can a viral video alone turn the tide in Alabama’s agriculture commissioner race? Dale Peterson, a suddenly well-known Republican running in the state’s primary elections on June 1, certainly hopes so.
Since uploading a video titled “We’re Better Than That!!!!” Sunday, May 16, his campaign has seen the clip accrue 850,000 YouTube views, while creating a windfall of publicity for the 65-year-old career businessman and sometimes judge for llama breeders shows. Combined with reposts of the video elsewhere, the spot has been viewed by more than 1 million visitors. Malinda Norman, the campaign’s Web manager, said the video was also seeded on the right-leaning blog HotAir.com and gossip site Gawker.com.
The YouTube viral literally happened overnight, Norman explained. “I looked at it before I went to bed Sunday night, and it had a couple thousand views,” she said. “On Monday morning, it had over 80,000…and our Facebook page has really grown since then.”
Norman said that Peterson’s Facebook page had been completely dormant since launching early this year, but has jumped from a few dozen to more than 2,000 fans (or, “People Who Like This”) due to the video. Traffic to DalePeterson2010.com has spiked “exponentially,” she added.
The video has appeared on numerous TV and online channels since going viral, such as CBS News, MSNBC, WashingtonPost.com, and GlennBeck.TV, the political commentator’s site. Peterson has fielded dozens of daily calls for radio interviews all week, Norman said.
Speaking with ClickZ, Peterson – who’s quickly become known for addressing male radio and TV personalities as “big guy” – said that a healthy uptick in modest donations from “little guys” has resulted from the viral video.
“A lot of little guys out there who are not flush with cash are sending in $5 and $10,” he said. “And those are the donations that really count… had one person write me and send me $10, and she said that she hadn’t had a job in a year.”
The attention the video has created could turn out to be invaluable to his candidacy with the election less than two weeks away, Peterson said. He’s running against Alabama farmer Dorman Grace and state politics veteran John McMillan for the Republican nomination. The winner will be challenged by Democrat Glenn Zorn in November.
On May 3, Alabama politics blog, Doc’s Political Parlor, handicapped Peterson as the longest shot to win the seat while putting him at 17:1 odds. Suggesting the viral video has helped him close that gap considerably, an unscientific poll yesterday on Montgomery, AL-based Fox20’s website showed him trailing Grace (the favorite to win the primary) by 13 percentage points with McMillan coming in at a distant third.
Ladd Ehlinger, Jr. is an independent filmmaker who wrote, produced, directed, and edited Peterson’s 1-minute clip. He said on Thursday that he’s received “nine or 10” calls from political consultants who have expressed interest in his help on campaigns around the country.
Ehlinger edited the video in a fast-paced, quick-cut fashion. It features a cowboy-hat-and-sunglasses-wearing Peterson climbing down off a horse with a Winchester rifle, while ranting about “thugs and villains” who “don’t give a rip about Alabama.” The outside-the-box style of the video seemingly has grabbed people’s attention, he said.
“The reason most political commercials suck is because they are made by committee,” Ehlinger said. “I was able to [impose] my singular vision. And Dale allowed me to shoot him as he really is.”
While the video was created more for online play than TV ads, according to Peterson’s camp, the new donations stream has it thinking about purchasing local spots before election day.
And whether the video and the subsequent exposure help Peterson get elected remains to be seen. Dr. Larry Powell, a political communications expert and University of Alabama-Birmingham professor, suggested to television site MyFoxAl.com that the impact of viral videos on elections is hard to predict.
“There is a big distinction between getting attention and getting votes,” he said. “And some candidates forget about that. To get votes not only do you have to get attention, but the message has to be one that will resonate with a broad spectrum of voters.”
Follow Christopher Heine on Twitter at @ChrisClickZ.