Poetic, practical but presumptuous - verdict on Obama's 'infomercial’

26.4 million viewers watch Democrat frontrunner's unprecedented broadcast
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The Independent US

Barack Obama's 30-minute campaign commercial broadcast on Wednesday night carpet-bombed millions of Americans in the hope of persuading the last remaining undecided voters to back America's first black presidential nominee.

The ratings of what The New York Times called "a closing argument to the Everyman" revealed that the Obama special was seen by 26.4 million viewers across three of the seven networks that aired it – CBS, NBC and Fox. Filmed by the award-winning documentary maker Davis Guggenheim, who made Al Gore's global warming extravaganza An Inconvenient Truth, the infomercial reached 21.7 per cent of households. That compares to 38.3 per cent of households that watched Obama's final debate against John McCain.

Images of growing wheat, suburban lawns and a freight train flashed up before the camera panned to Mr Obama sat at a table with a group of white working-class voters. "We've seen over the last eight years how decisions by a president can have a profound effect on the course of history and on American lives; much that's wrong with our country goes back even farther than that," the Illinois Senator said.

There were vignettes of everyday life for families Mr Obama had encountered on the stump. Other more controversial shots showed him in a mock-up of the Oval Office, leaving him open to the charge of hubris.

Watch Obama's informercial, 'American Stories, American Solutions'

The $4m (£2.5m) broadcast proved once again how the Democratic nominee's deep pockets of campaign cash have enabled him to rewrite the rules of this election campaign. And in a punchy – and unexpected close – the camera cut to live shots of Mr Obama at a rally in Florida alongside his running mate Joe Biden.

Mr McCain derided the event as a "gauzy, feel-good commercial," paid for with broken promises but outside the Republican camp, reaction to the short documentary was mostly favourable, with The Washington Post's Tom Shales calling it "both poetic and practical, spiritual and sensible".

"The film conveyed feelings... of how it would feel to live in an America with Barack Obama in the White House," he added. "The tone and texture recalled the Morning in America campaign film made on behalf of Ronald Reagan, and was meant to give the audience a sense of security and satisfaction; things are going to be all right."

The media critic Howard Kurtz said parts of Obama's ad were effective, while others were over the top. "The highly produced segments on the struggle of ordinary Americans who live in swing states was very nicely done," he said. "The faux Oval Office seemed a tad presumptuous to me ... and closing with the big rally kind of defeated the purpose of the previous 27 minutes, which was to bring Obama down from the clouds and show him interacting with normal people."

Mr Obama's film focused on bread-and-butter issues such as the global financial meltdown, which he said was the verdict on eight years of failed Republican policies, home foreclosures, health care costs, disappearing jobs and falling incomes.

The only precedent for the Obama special was a series of sensational presentations put on by the third party candidate Ross Perot in 1992. Using a series of flipcharts to highlight the soaring budget deficits, the candidate averaged 11.6 million viewers across 15 shows. His success split the Republican vote and opened the White House door to Bill Clinton.