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Backstory: Reducing the campaign snooze factor

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If you own a television, you probably think of the nonstop barrage of political advertising during election years as the equivalent of taxes: It's the price you pay for living in a robust democracy. But Bill Hillsman, a Minneapolis-based advertising executive, has shown that election commercials can be more entertaining than the sitcoms they interrupt. Over the past 15 years he's crafted some of the most unusual and attention-getting commercials in politics, transforming former Gov. Jesse Ventura into a Rodin sculpture and turning current Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman into an action figure.

He's already enlivened the Connecticut Democratic senate primary with one of the first ads he cut for businessman Ned Lamont, who is mounting a strong primary challenge to Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman.

While the ad begins conventionally with the candidate sitting in his living room explaining his position on healthcare, through the window a crowd can be seen growing outside, led by the liberal blogger Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos.

Suddenly, Mr. Moulitsas bursts through the door, exclaiming: "We saw the commercial and we love it!" Mr. Lamont protests that he's still taping the ad; Moulitsas retorts that "everyone is here, ready to go. So hurry it up!" The candidate, bewildered, gives the traditional "I'm Ned Lamont, and I approve this message" – but it's punctuated with the crowd yelling, "And so do we!"

Mr. Hillsman hit the scene in 1990, when he designed ads that helped an obscure college professor – Paul Wellstone – defeat a sitting Republican senator, despite being outspent seven-to-one.


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