For U.S. Senator from Oklahoma

Examining the art of selling a Senator

We might wish politics was about having full access and understanding of where your candidates stand on the issues, gauging a candidate's character, and choosing from among the best.

Perfect Candidate = ?

Instead, politics is usually a game of salemanship. It's about packaging candidates. Which often means leaving us with candidates who are marketable, but utterly valueless once elected.

Homer's unfortunate choices: Obama or Romney

With that in mind, here are fliers I've received for the two leading candidates for the U.S. Senate seat of the retiring Dr. Tom Coburn.

Those unfamiliar with Oklahoma politics should be aware that the winner of the Oklahoma Republican primary will almost certainly become our Senator in this overwhelmingly Republican state.

The candidates are T.W. Shannon and James Lankford.

First thing you want to know about selling your candidate is, get Shannon's photographer. Here are the head shots of the candidates, clipped from the front of each flier:

Lankford, Shannon

Let's face it, neither of these guys is a beauty.

There's something off about the shape of Lankford's head, his eyes, his jaw, but it's hard to tell because the photo is so ill-lit, grainy, and washed out — or, who knows what kind of distortion his photo went through to end up looking like this.

And Shannon, honestly, he looks kind-of like a goofy kid, with his oval face and ears sticking out. Shannon has a genuine, if slightly goofy, smile. Lankford's ghostly visage is unfortunately for him like a waxwork or zombie.

On Shannon's flier,

the photo is the height of the flier, the family is casually dressed, outdoors, nicely lit, all great smiles. The candidate's name, with the nick-namish "T.W." especially prominent, is to the right. Republican for U.S. Senate is simple and straightforward, and almost humbly at the bottom in small type is "Endorsed by conservative leaders Sarah Palin & Mark Levin."

On Lankford's flier,

the family photo is only half the height of the flier, the family is casually enough dressed, although Lankford looks like he's trying too hard with his denim button-down. The prominent headline above them, stretching the length of the flier, has, in large type, "America's Foundation" and a sub-head of "The Constitution & our faith" both in all-caps. The family and text are superimposed over a collage of the Constitution, and a simple rural church flying an American flag. Further text finally presents the candidate's name and says he has fought to "defend religious freedom, protect Oklahoma values, uphold the Constitution, and preserve individual liberties."

Nothing particularly specific on either flier's front. Shannon's presents the candidate, with a small blurb of powerful endorsement. Lankford's, like his denim shirt strives too hard to stress key themes. Shannon's definitely wins for layout and photography. Lankford's photographer should find a new career, it's a terrible shot of people who could probably look much less posed and certainly could look brighter. Lankford's may hit some folks, but his shotgun approach seems a little too desperately look-how-conservative-I-am. ("Oklahoma values" are what, exactly?)

Let's flip them over!

A small copy of the same washed-out photo of Lankford is repeated, lonely, isolated from the family, on the back, in the bottom-right, partially hidden behind the address block. The other three photos on the page are what you might get if you did an image search on "USA flag rural."

Generic patriotic rural pix
Can't we stick a few more flags in there?

This is the problem with Lankford's flier throughout. It looks like clip-art for Constitutional and religious conservatives. Beneath his oddly-still-not-prominent name is the all-caps blurb, "trusted conservative service." The text hits these notes: Constitution (for), God-given freedoms (for), intrusive liberal policies of President Obama (against), protecting our values (for), Washington's assault on freedom to worship, make our own decisions, and pass on a better life to our children (against, er, against the assault, um, for that other stuff).

The most solid meat in the flier is the last paragraph. "Obamacare endangers our personal liberties and individual freedoms. That is why James Lankford has stood up to President Obama and Washington liberals, voting to repeal, replace, or delay Obamacare more than 40 times."

Funny thing. The women on the front are, one is surely meant to presume, Lankford's wife and daughters. They might as well be clip art too, however, as there is no reference to suggest he's married or has kids anywhere in the flier.

The Lankford flier features a phone number where you can "thank Congressman Lankford for his trusted conservative service." It was paid for by the "Foundation for Economic Prosperity, Inc."

The back of Shannon's flier, to begin with, is much easier to read than the white-on-graple of Lankford's. Shannon's features another big, bright photo of the candidate and his family, happily strolling down a park path, a small photo of the candidate (not looking so goofy) and his wife at their wedding, and one more small photo of the family, seated, formally dressed. Shannon definitely wins on photos.

The text in Shannon's flier is less bulleted blurbs and more narrative. Married twelve years, teaching their children to "put God and family first." Opposes government dependency "pushing families into poverty." Some personal history, their hard times, teaching the kids to count on hard work not handouts. Wife had cancer. "God's lesson was that every day and every moment count."

"When Dr. Tom Coburn stepped down, T.W. and Devon believe it was God's assignment for their lives to run…." Welllll, maybe… @@

The blurb to the right mentions Shannon as "Oklahoma's most conservative Speaker of the House in history." Welfare "workfare" reform (passed), Obamacare Medicaid expansion (stopped), 2nd Amendment (for), slips his pro-life position in there as an adjective "pro-life Republican," and touches once more on family.

Nothing about who paid for this. website is listed. (I tried pressing the Facebook and Twitter icons on the card, but nothing happened.)

The financing for both these candidates is shady.

More U.S. Senate donors remain anonymous — Organizations have spent more than $100,000 on ads running in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, but public information is hard to come by and the leader of one group is apparently shy about commenting. (News on 6)

Two organizations with scant public information available have purchased nearly $110,000 of broadcast television time in Oklahoma for “issue ads” that promote U.S. Rep. James Lankford without specifically endorsing his Senate campaign.

The ads, running in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa markets, are attributed to a group called the Foundation for Economic Prosperity. However, the public forms filed with television stations in Oklahoma City say the money for the ads was provided by the First Amendment Alliance Educational Fund.

There is no information about the Foundation for Economic Prosperity on the public websites of the Internal Revenue Service or the Federal Election Commission. Two political committees with “economic prosperity” in their names were recently established under federal election rules by an Oklahoma City fundraiser and an associate. However, neither have reported any advertising expenses.

The First Amendment Alliance funded ads in the 2010 election cycle, but it has not filed reports with the IRS or Federal Election Commission for years and appeared to be dormant.

Shannon is also being supported by anonymous donors:

A group that has spent nearly $400,000 to boost the U.S. Senate campaign of state Rep. T.W. Shannon organized as a “social welfare” organization under the federal tax code and will be able to keep secret the names of its donors.

Donors to Oklahomans for a Conservative Future can give unlimited amounts of money to help the Republican candidate, but the secrecy comes at a cost: The group must raise at least twice as much money as it can spend on politics.

Oklahomans for a Conservative Future does have to report its expenditures for Shannon to the Federal Election Commission. This month, the group has filed three reports with the FEC showing that it spent $395,178 on television advertising and direct mail on behalf of Shannon, the former state House speaker from Lawton. (News on 6)

In an age of IRS harassment and political vindictiveness, the need for such protection of donors becomes understandable. It's also a great way for enemies of conservatism to sponsor faux conservatives and split tickets or actually elect RINOs in conservatives' clothing.