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How Specter got commercialized

It was, by many accounts, the tipping point in the heated Democratic primary race for a Senate seat: After Joe Sestak’s camp ran a TV ad featuring that chilling four-second sound bite of Senator “My Change in Party Will Enable Me to Be Reelected” Specter, even the Governor credited the commercial for playing a major role in the Senator’s defeat. The brains behind the TV spot? Campaign engineer extraordinaire Neil Oxman and sidekick J.J. Balaban. But the men behind those brains turn out to be Sestak’s assistant communications director, Joe Langdon, 26, and former staffer Kipp Hebert, 22, who were tasked with keeping up on all news of Specter.

“The clip aired back in May of ’09, right around when Specter switched parties,” Langdon says. “There was no campaign at the time, and we weren’t aware it was out there.” But when it reran on Fox a year later, Hebert caught it and sent it to Langdon, who e-mailed it to Balaban. “Maybe this could be helpful,” he wrote. The ad, titled “The Switch,” aired about two weeks before the election.

Langdon protests the idea of his clip as a game-changer. “Truth is,” he says, “through the long slog over winter, we’d already brought name recognition from zero to 50 percent, and by late April, we had closed the gap and were gaining.” In other words, the polls tell the longer tale of Sestak’s rise; the commercial, Langdon says, was merely a part of that momentum: “I think it’s just beneficial to certain folks to look at the ad and say, ‘Oh, well, that’s where the campaign got us. Nobody can beat an ad like that.’”