NBC’s retired White House drama “The West Wing” is a favorite of many political staffers. In hopes of leveraging that affinity, a lesser-known Democrat running for U.S. Congress has harnessed some West Wing star power for recruiting purposes. Bradley Whitford, better known to some as Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman of the West Wing, is featured in online videos launched Tuesday by the Tommy Sowers for Congress campaign.
The goal is to recruit Capitol Hill staffers and others with campaign experience to help knock on doors and get out the vote for Sowers in Missouri’s 8th District. That district just happens to encompass Rush Limbaugh’s hometown, Cape Girardeau, where the conservative radio host’s family has an illustrious history.
“I want you to focus on the congressional election in the 8th district of Missouri,” says Whitford in one of the videos he shot while in Dallas on the set of “The Good Guys,” a buddy cop show spoof on Fox. “That’s Rush Limbaugh’s home district. The Democrats have a unique chance to pick up a seat there,” he continues. Name-dropping Limbaugh, an icon of the conservative right, could help entice Democrats to trek to Missouri. The videos launched October 19, and are housed on the Sowers site as well as the campaign’s YouTube channel.
Many people on the hill already plan to go somewhere to help get out the vote, said Steffi Decker, a consultant with Chong and Koster, the firm behind the video campaign and the online ads supporting it. “Who better to inspire people to go out and support Tommy than Deputy Chief of Staff Joshua Lyman?” Snippets of the evocative West Wing theme music in the videos may also serve as inspiration.
Whitford isn’t simply asking for online donations for Sowers, though. He’s asking key groups of people to pack their bags, get on a plane, and possibly take time off work to canvass door-to-door for a candidate they may have never heard of, in a state they may have never been to.
Whitford met Sowers at West Point, where Sowers taught American Politics and Mass Media and Politics. “Knowing that [Whitford] wanted to help out, we thought about how we could get him to chip in,” said Christie Cunningham, communications director for the Sowers campaign.
In addition to hill staff, the videos target former staff of Obama for America. Students of Duke University, where Sowers attended before getting a degree from the London School of Economics, are also on the list of target groups.
“They’re aimed at specific audiences that we have connections with,” said Cunningham.
Each group is targeted with a unique video featuring a tailored message from Whitford. “Are you tired of being cooped up in the legislative sausage factory?” asks Whitford in the hill staffer-aimed video. “Tell your chief of staff…or not…but get yourself down there,” he quips, directing staffers to travel to Missouri. “On behalf of the acting president of the United States, that’s an order.”
The video aimed at Duke students is also tongue-in-cheek: “I used to work in a fake White House with a guy named Sam who went to Duke,” says Whitford, alluding to Rob Lowe’s West Wing character, Sam Seaborn, deputy White House communications director, who went to Duke Law School.
“The videos really match the spirit of the [Sowers] campaign,” said Decker. “They’re funny and entertaining, but also really serious and purposeful.”
To help drive people to view the videos, the campaign is running Facebook ads targeting Duke students, staffers on Capitol Hill and OFA staff, and fans of The West Wing. The campaign is targeting by workplace to reach staffers; for people on the hill that’s “United States Congress.” Many OFA staffers list Obama for America as a workplace or as an interest, said Decker. West Wing fans – by far the largest audience segment – are targeted by keywords including “West Wing,” “Josh Lyman,” “Bradley Whitford,” and “Aaron Sorkin,” the name of the show’s creator.
There are around 5,100 people on Facebook near Washington, D.C. who list U.S. Congress as a workplace in their profiles, according to Decker. “It’s not terribly expensive to run a lot of impressions in that area to that demographic,” she said.
“These videos are just an extension of the way we’ve been running this campaign all along,” said Cunningham, pointing to its grassroots focus. “We’ve got a huge volunteer base here in Missouri, so we’re trying to bring back people who were involved in 2008 who were volunteers,” she said.