Barack Obama is to become the first US presidential candidate for 16 years to do a half-hour long political broadcast. His campaign, which has plenty of cash, has bought airtime on both CBS and NBC for the evening of Wednesday October 29, less than a week before polling day.
The last candidate to do it was Ross Perot, the billionaire third-party contender who did pretty well back in 1992. But this move by Obama is more reminiscent of the Democrat who ran for the presidency in both 1952 and 1956, Adlai Stevenson. In the 1952 campaign, Stevenson chose to run 18 separate half-hour adverts, during which he expanded at length on his various policies. His opponent, Dwight D Eisenhower, instead pioneered the short 30-second ads that are so familiar today. He won easily, partly because the snappy communication of his message came over a lot better than the haughty Stevenson's more highbrow approach.
This doesn't mean Barack Obama's setting himself up for a fall by going for a half-hour advert. Although there's a danger that, like Stevenson, he'll simply come over to many people as an elitist liberal snob, the sort of Americans who are inclined to think of him in that way are pretty unlikely to vote for him. Instead this could turn out to be a clever move for two reasons. The first is that John McCain probably doesn't have enough money to be able to do the same thing. The second is that it gives Senator Obama another opportunity to speak directly to the American people without the filter of the media. And with the polls showing he's done well in the debates so far, his primetime appearance could help secure him the election.