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The Christmas ad war

December 19, 2007 |  6:50 pm

Despite the controversy Mike Huckabee sparked with the "Merry Christmas" ad he unveiled earlier this week (and somehow, we don't think the flap bothers him much), he clearly was ahead of the curve.

The presidential candidates may be leaving the trail for a few days next week so as not to sully Christmas celebrations for voters, but that doesn't mean they can't try to tap into the season's spirit.

Barack Obama's campaign today previewed a spot set to start Friday in Iowa that, along with himself, features his very photogenic family -- his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Sasha, 6, and Malia, 9. Although not overtly political, the ad hews to the persona that is central to his candidacy; Obama says the holidays serve as a reminder that "the things that unite us as a people are more powerful and enduring than anything that sets us apart."

The scene, with an artfully trimmed Christmas tree and an in-use fireplace in the background, is picture-perfect. Perhaps too much so; tellingly, the Chicago Tribune reports: "A spokesman for the Illinois Democrat declined to comment on whether the ad was filmed in his home in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood, or a studio."

Holiday-themed ads from John Edwards and Hillary Clinton ...

also are very much in the character of their campaigns.

A Christmas tree looms in the background as Edwards, alone and unsmiling, delivers a message spotlighting the homeless and the poor, rather than good cheer. The spot begins airing Sunday in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Clinton's commercial lacks a tree, but features lots of well-wrapped gifts that surround the candidate. She's adding the final touch -- name cards. Only in this case, the labels show her best-known pledges, such as "Universal Health Care"; "Bring Troops Home"; "Middle Class Tax Breaks."

Once a wonk, always a wonk, we suppose. The ad hit the airwaves today in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The most light-hearted of the seasonal spots comes from a candidate who not too long ago was hardly associated with lightheartedness -- Rudy Giuliani. But, just as he sought to laugh off some of the tough questions he faced during a recent session on "Meet the Press," Giuliani apparently has decided that humor is his best policy ... for now. (Let's check back in if he fares poorly in both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.)

The Giuliani camp offers a two-fer: a website-only ad and one scheduled for television. The Web ad bears a similarity to Clinton's spot, with Giuliani using the gift motif to promise such items as "a safe America," lower taxes" and "strict constructionist judges." But then he takes a crack at levity, going off on a fruitcake riff.

The TV commercial, slated to start Thursday in New Hampshire, features Giuliani wearing the same glaringly red sleeveless sweater and sitting in front of the same Christmas tree as in the Web ad. He provides a litany of (predictable) holiday wishes: "Peace with strength. Secure borders. A government that spends less than it takes in. Lower taxes for our businesses and families."

Then he adds this: "And I really hope, that all of the presidential candidates can just get along."

At this point, a Santa Claus injects a note of skepticism, and the two yuck it up.

Here's what struck us, though (perhaps because of our L.A. links): who would have ever imagined that Giuliani would one day be parroting Rodney King, who in 1992 famously implored rioters, "People, I just want to say ... can we all get along?"

The Times' Robin Abcarian has a full feature on the new crop of ads here and in Thursday's print editions

-- Don Frederick

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