She kicks in the clutch, slams into reverse and hauls a black Chevy Camaro down a desolate New Mexico dirt road — backward.
“I was an undercover CIA operative,” a voice says. “My assignment was preventing rogue states and terrorists from getting nuclear weapons.”
The driver, and speaker, is Valerie Plame, and this is her new online ad for her campaign to represent New Mexico’s 3rd District in Congress.
“Now I’m running for Congress because we’re going backwards on national security, health care and women’s rights,” she says.
She then pulls a J-turn, spinning 180 degrees and stopping in a cloud of dust.
“We need to turn our country around,” she says, completing the metaphor. “And yes, the CIA does really teach us how to drive like this.”
The clip, scheduled for release Monday, is the latest in a series of longer, more creative political ads that tell candidates’ personal stories rather than repeating boilerplate lines about policies and attacks on opponents. Its producer, Mark Putnam, has been the consultant behind many of them, including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s viral wall-smashing video released earlier this year.
“The trend of creativity in advertising goes way back, but you don’t see enough of it in political ads,” said Putnam, founder of Washington, D.C.-based Putnam Partners. “Most political ads have the same old cliche shots.”
The video could help Plame distinguish herself in a very crowded Democratic primary race that has 10 candidates, including First Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna, Santa Fe lawyer Teresa Leger Fernandez and former Deputy Secretary of State John Blair.
Other announced candidates for the Democratic primary include Kyle Tisdel, a Taos attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center; Sandoval County Treasurer Laura M. Montoya; state Rep. Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde; former Navajo Nation presidential candidate Dineh Benally; Gavin Kaiser of Santa Cruz and Cameron Alton Chick Sr. of Rio Rancho.
Three Republicans—Audra Lee Brown, Alexis Johnson and Karen Bedonie—have registered as candidates for the seat, now held by U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., who is vacating it to run for the U.S. Senate.
Putnam often focuses on telling candidates’ life stories and trying to capture their personalities through rich imagery.
Last year, he told the story of congressional candidate and former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, who recounted her combat experience with a fighter jet in the background. The spot has nearly 2 million views on YouTube.
His firm also did a similar long-form video for Texas Democrat MJ Hegar last year, which now has over 3 million views. The Democratic strategist has worked for other New Mexico politicians as well, including Sen. Tom Udall and former Gov. Bill Richardson.
The rise of social media has helped candidates become more innovative with their ads because now they can put out clips longer than the 30-second television spot.
“We have over a minute here to fully tell the story and do it in a dramatic way,” Putnam said. “People find it intriguing, and they’ll watch the whole thing because it’s a powerful story.”
With Plame, the idea for the video grew out of her view that the country is moving backward on a number of issues, and Putnam’s desire to tell her story about having her identity as a CIA operative leaked and published in 2003.
“The whole mood of the video is designed to capture her personality,” Putnam said. “She’s got spunk, she’s tough, she’s driven and she’s got what it takes to stand up for New Mexico.”
In the ad, Plame recounts the story of how her identity was leaked by former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, pointing out President Donald Trump recently pardoned Libby.
She then gives her family background, mentioning her father’s time in the Air Force and her brother’s service in Vietnam. It also shows family videotape of Plame raising her children in New Mexico.
Putnam said he also wanted to highlight some of what Plame did as a CIA agent before the scandal happened. There was no better way, he said, than filming her doing a maneuver she actually learned in training there.
“It was such a Washington story of intrigue and betrayal that people don’t know what she was doing before all that happened,” Putnam said. “She really was an undercover CIA operative. She was the real deal.”
At the end of the video, after pulling the 180-degree turn and stopping the car, Plame gets out, walks toward the camera and takes her sunglasses off.
“And Mr. President,” she says, “I’ve got a few scores to settle.”