How newcomers try to get elected: A talking duck puppet, Knight Rider and sleeping on sidewalks

Posted at 7:06 AM, Oct 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-25 10:26:07-04

A talking duck puppet, an ambulance with superhero stickers and tents pitched on the sidewalk in front of the Board of Elections.

These are the political props local candidates are using to reach voters in an election season that is being overrun by the noisy clash between presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

“Particularly this presidential year, as a first-time candidate it’s hard to break through the noise,” said Aftab Pureval, a Proctor & Gamble lawyer who is using a yellow duck puppet that quacks “Aftab,” (as a spoof on the Aflac Duck) in television ads to boost name recognition in his run for Hamilton County Clerk of Court.

“People love it. We’ve gotten a universally positive response from everyone,” Pureval said.  “And its working - people yell my name now in a duck voice. I’ll be forever known as the duck guy.”

Pureval, a Democrat, is running against big-name Republican incumbent Tracy Winkler.

Despite taking a six-month leave from his job to campaign full time and a daily goal to shake 500 hands, few people recognized Pureval’s name until his first ad aired a few weeks ago.

Pureval unveiled a second television ad this week with a third coming before the election. All feature the cute quacking duck.

“It's hard in any election year - but this is probably the hardest it's ever been for local candidates,” said University of Cincinnati political science professor David Niven. “What could you possibly do as a candidate for county office that could compete with Donald Trump's hold on our attention span?”

Hoping to draw attention – and television crews -- to the first day of early voting on Oct. 12, a handful of local Democrats spent the night sleeping in tents and on chairs on the sidewalk in front of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, including Peter Stackpole and Michael Mann, who are running for perhaps the least known races on the local ballot: judgeships.

“A lot of people camp out for the new version of the iPhone, but voting is way more important to me,” said Alex Linser, campaign chairman for county commissioner candidate Denise Driehaus, a Democrat who is running against Republican incumbent Dennis Deters. Linser only got four hours of sleep that night sitting upright in a camping chair.

Republican Andrew Pappas is the underdog in his bid to unseat well-known Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, who has name recognition and 16 years of incumbency on his side.

But Pappas has an ambulance.

He unveiled the Pappas Mobile, an old ambulance decorated with superhero images of Pappas, at a press conference in May, and then drove it in a campy campaign ad a month later.

The campaign commercial spoofs the 1980’s hit television show “Knight Rider,” with Pappas as the hero fighting political insiders. Since June the YouTube video has had more than 8,300 views.

Pappas uses the old ambulance to make deliveries for his dry-cleaning business, and he frequently gets thumbs up from other drivers. Plenty of people also want photos taken with it and tag him on Facebook if they’re driving behind him. The Pappas Mobile also has its own Twitter account. 

“Name identification is key. Building it and then selling it is just something that’s incredibly difficult,” Pappas said. “I’d like to take that commercial as a spoof and put it right on TV. I think that would be awesome. Because of what it costs, I cannot afford to do it.”

But Pappas still holds out hope that his campaign video will go viral on YouTube before the election is over.

“What else can you do - you’ve got to get your name out there,” said Sean Comer, Xavier University’s director of government relations. “This year so much of the air time and energy and conversation are being sucked up by what’s going on at the top of the ticket.”