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Hot Ads of the Week: Candidates Take Dead Aim

Welcome to Hot Ads of the Week -- this week we are taking dead aim at some of the best and most influential campaign ads of the week.

(at left, Robert and Jill discuss the Hot Ads on Friday's Washington Unplugged.)

This is the beginning of the end of the campaign and as candidates begin their closing arguments, the ad wars will get more heated. Some incumbents are going to try to spend their way to re-election and some challengers are throwing everything out there to stay on top. In other words, fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a crazy ride to the finish.

Critical Contests: Interactive Map with CBS News' Election 2010 Race Ratings

Dead Aim

Number one may go down as the ad of 2010. Democrat Joe Manchin takes to the firing range to show how independent he is from Washington. He's a popular governor who's been hit by Republicans as being too close to President Obama. Here, Manchin literally fires back.

He touts his NRA endorsement by carrying a rifle, loading it, and firing at a target. In the ad, called "dead aim," Manchin says he'll fight the administration to stand up for West Virginia: "I'll take on Washington and this administration to get the federal government off our backs and out of our pockets."

Manchin says he will cut federal spending and will fight to repeal bad parts of "Obamacare." He also touts his lawsuit against the EPA and says he'll take "dead aim at the cap and trade bill, because it's bad for West Virginia."

Manchin's target is a mock up of the cap and trade bill, which is unpopular in coal country because of the bill's goal to move the country off of coal and other fossil fuels.

Medicare Strikes Back

The second ad is in Kentucky, where Democrat Jack Conway is once again using Republican Rand Paul's words against him.

The ad is indicative of how Democrats are battling Tea Party candidates, who like Paul, often have views or made statements that appear to be out of the mainstream. Here, the debate is over Medicare and the ad relies on a video clip of Rand Paul speaking in 2009 about how to fix Medicare.

"The real answer to Medicare would be a two thousand dollar deductible" says Paul in the clip. From there, the Conway ad uses real seniors (no indication if they are paid actors) to challenge Paul's plan.

"I don't know what planet he's from," says one man. "Rand Paul is off the wall with a two thousand dollar deductible," says a woman.

Others are on camera saying they can't afford that much of a deductible. Finally, another older woman delivers this line that illustrates the Democrat's tactic: "The more we hear about Rand Paul, the worse it gets."

Running on Health Care

The third ad is unique this season.

Most Democrats are avoiding the subject of health care altogether since it still remains unpopular with the American public. But Democratic incumbent Rep. Scott Murphy (N.Y.-20) is not only running on it, he's flat out attacking his opponent for supporting a repeal of the health care bill, commonly referred to by opponents as "Obamacare."

"Chris Gibson wants to repeal the health care law" the announcer says ominously. "Chris Gibson would let insurance companies go back to denying coverage for preexisting conditions."

The ad then goes through some of the more popular parts of the bill. "Chris Gibson. He's for the insurance industry. Not you," says the announcer at the end of the advertisement.

It will be interesting on November 2nd to see whether it was best for the 45 at-risk Democrats who voted for health care reform to avoid the issue altogether or to tackle it head-on. Murphy joins just a handful of Democrats putting health care front and center including Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.-2).

Another Gun Toting Democrat

Number four takes us to a long-time Democrat who's facing a tough re-election, Ike Skelton in Missouri.

In this ad, Skelton touts his NRA endorsement and hits his opponent over a vote she took as a member of the Missouri State House. This ad illustrates the way some threatened Democrats are selling themselves to voters -- here a 17-term incumbent runs as being more pro-gun than his Republican opponent.

The NRA's policy is to endorse the incumbent over a challenger if they are both pro-gun, so the NRA endorsement, while true for Skelton, does not diminish his opponent's credentials. On her website, Hartzler calls herself a "staunch supporter of our Second Amendment."

"The right to keep and bear arms is fundamental to Missouri's rural heritage," says the announcer over images of hunters. "But when Vicky Hartzler, had the chance to defend the second amendment, she took a stand against the NRA. Opposing concealed carry. Vicky Hartzler thought government should decide, not gun owners."

This is another dig at the GOP candidate and plays against the pro-big government notion that is plaguing many Democrats in this election.

After saying that Skelton believes in the right to bear arms, the announcer says "the NRA endorses Ike and asks all Missouri gun owners, hunters, and NRA members to vote for Ike Skelton for Congress."

Obama/Pelosi Agenda

Number five takes us to Idaho - yes, Idaho where Conservative Democrat Walt Minnick is under fire from his Republican opponent, Raul Labrador for being too close to President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

This ad is technically correct, but loses points for lack of context. The ad hits Minnick for his votes in Congress, but fails to mention that he voted against the Stimulus bill AND the health care reform package, so while is a Democrat, he's not really an Obama/Pelosi Democrat.

"Democrat Walt Minnick isn't telling the truth," says the announcer starting the ad. "Minnick voted with Obama/Pelosi over 70% of the time. Voted for $68 billion in more stimulus," the announcer continues. "Minnick won't commit to repealing Obamacare. Bottom line: Minnick's hiding his liberal Obama/Pelosi record."

The Republican candidate Raul Labrador appears at the end of the ad to say that he's the one who will fight the White House. "I'm a conservative republican who will stand up to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi," he says.

One note here - there many ads that use the statistic of how many times a member of Congress voted with the Speaker or with the party, but like many claims, those stats can be misleading. Minnick may have voted with Pelosi more than 70 percent of the time, but a new analysis shows that even the House Minority Leader, Republican John Boehner, voted with the speaker more than 52 percent of the time.

What matters most on that statistic, is on what agenda items were similar votes cast, and in Minnick's case, saying he voted with Pelosi 70 percent of the time when he voted against the Democrats major agenda items is disingenuous.

An Honorable Mention this week goes to Florida Gubernatorial candidate Democrat Alex Sink. She bought 2 minutes of time to run this mock true-crime show episode against her opponent Republican Rick Scott.

The ad hits hard at Scott's biggest weakness, his role as head the health care company Columbia/HCA when the company was charged with the largest Medicare fraud fine in history. "Today on fraud files, a money trail that leads from tax payer wallets straight to the pockets of one mysterious man," says the announcer.

The ad is reminiscent of a two-minute true-crime style ad that Democrat Charlie Melancon took out against Senator David Vitter in Louisiana over Vitter's role in the DC Madam prostitution ring.

Drumroll please! The winner of last week's Hot Ads of the Week was The Family Research Council PAC with their ad asking voters to get government off their backs. Vote for this week's winner below!

Robert Hendin and Jill Jackson are CBS News Senior Political Producers. You can read more of Jill's posts in Hotsheet here or follow her on Twitter. More of Robert's posts in Hotsheet are here and you can follow him on Twitter here.
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