With the start of the primary season just 14 days away, voters in the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and even South Carolina are getting special holiday treats this year: video Christmas cards disguised as television and online ads from their favorite candidates. The hands-down highlight has been Republican Mike Huckabee's put-the-Christ-back-in-Christmas ad that has spawned a spirited debate (at last!). Is it a glowing white bookcase or a hovering Christian cross? You be the judge. But there's more—from Ron Paul's singing family to Hillary Clinton's hunt for gift tags. Here they are, in all their red-sweatered glory:
Republican Mike Huckabee
"What Really Matters" ad airing in Iowa
This is folksy Huckabee in a direct appeal to the heart of conservative evangelicals. A guitar version of "Silent Night" plays softly as the Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor, in a red sweater, soothingly reminds viewers that it's the "birth of Christ" that matters this season. Over his shoulder is a bookcase that in the gauzy lighting appears to be a shimmering, suspended cross. With Huckabee ascending on the back of the religious right, it's a tough sell to claim the image was unintended, though he has tried.
Republican Rudy Giuliani
"Holiday Wishes" ad airing in New Hampshire
Tough guy Giuliani works to soften his image with a red sweater vest, a decorated Christmas tree, and a bit of humor. (His holiday wish: that all the presidential candidates would just get along, but it's not on Santa's list. "Can't have everything!" Rudy cackles.) No floating crosses, but the candidate does trot out Santa as a sidekick. Hey, isn't Santa Claus from the North Pole? Does he have his papers? Is Giuliani providing sanctuary for an illegal Santa? Calling Mitt Romney....
Republican Mitt Romney
"Searched" ad airing in New Hampshire
The former Massachusetts governor decided against a red sweater ad and instead is airing a testimonial from a former business partner whose 14-year-old daughter Romney helped find when she disappeared in New York City in 1996. Black-and-white footage of subways and newspaper headlines as well as Robert Gay's teary account of how Romney helped organize a successful search make this ad one of the candidate's most effective. (For something more holiday-ish, a video on the candidate's website features a gaggle of Romneys, including the patriarch, sledding. It looks authentically fun.)
Republican Ron Paul
"Season's Greetings" website video
This homey, low-tech effort harks back to holiday ads that family-owned stores used to run on local television when there used to be family-owned stores. No glitz—just a simple cursive "Season's Greetings From the Ron Paul Family" flashed on the screen, his wife in a Christmas sweater, and two dozen family members lining a staircase singing "Deck the Halls." Paul, in a red shirt, wishes everyone "an absolutely great 2008." There's a bookcase behind him but no glowing crosses.
Republican John McCain
"My Christmas Story" ad running in New Hampshire and South Carolina
On the trail, McCain often tells of a guard who showed small kindnesses to McCain when he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. This ad re-enacts one of those incidents—when the guard, on Christmas, surreptitiously drew a cross in the sand for McCain to see. It is somewhat surprising to have a McCain ad so prominently display a cross along with the candidate's profile. But it is airing in South Carolina, where the candidate is seeking inroads into the conservative Christian community.
Democrat Hillary Clinton
"Presents" website video
In this low-key video, Clinton eschews red for a brown suit—she is backed by fluffy red pillows but no tree—and also shows her inner wonk as she searches for labels for her pretty, wrapped gifts. Let's see, there's "Universal Health Care" and "Middle Class Tax Breaks." But she just can't find "Universal Pre-K." A modest search breaks out. "Ah," she says, "there it is." At the end, a strangely Gothic-looking "Happy Holidays" fills the screen.