Washington – Here’s Grace, a sweetly smiling little girl in a wheelchair. Now here’s her mother, Lauren Glaros: “When I saw Donald Trump mock a disabled person, I was just shocked,” she says. Then we see Trump, his hands jerking in front of his body as he imitates a reporter who has a condition that limits his arm movement.
To the Democrats, it’s a picture worthy of a thousand commercials.
That’s why two versions of the advertisement called “Grace” have been on television more than almost any other at this early stage of the general election campaign. They’ve appeared some 7,200 times in 10 states across the country, with the heaviest concentration in the always-hard-fought presidential battlegrounds of Florida and Ohio, an analysis from Kantar Media’s campaign advertising tracker shows.
The commercials are paid for by Priorities USA, a super political action committee dedicated to helping elect Hillary Clinton. Only a Clinton campaign advertisement about the former first lady’s work to expand children’s health care has aired more since mid-May, when general election ads began hitting the air.
Even among Trump’s many controversial statements — Clinton aides see them as an embarrassment of riches — the footage of him appearing to mock a disabled reporter stands out, evoking one of the strongest reactions from voters in focus groups and other forums.
“Everything in our research showed people found that clip very disturbing, and how could they not? It’s the Republican nominee for president of the United States making fun of disabled people on national television,” said Justin Barasky, a spokesman for Priorities USA.
The footage comes from a Trump campaign rally in November in South Carolina. On stage, he acts out his impression of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who had disputed Trump’s claim about “thousands” of people celebrating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“Now, the poor guy — you’ve got to see this guy, ‘Ah, I don’t know what I said! I don’t remember!'” Trump said. He later said he was only acting as a flustered reporter, not one with a disability. And he denied knowing Kovaleski, who had covered him for years.
One Clinton aide said the response from voters is strongest when they see the video, which they say leaves people with no doubt that Trump was making fun of the reporter’s disability.
The video clip is making it into multiple pro-Clinton efforts.
It was even in her campaign’s very first general election ad, the Trump video looped in after she asks, “Do we respect each other?”
And Priorities recently produced what could be seen as a companion video called “Dante,” showing the same footage but with a different disabled person calling him out for it. It’s the signature part of a multimillion-dollar online campaign to appeal to young and African-American voters.
In the video, 17-year-old Dante Latchman explains to the camera that he had a rare form of cancer on his spinal cord that makes it difficult for him to walk. The video cuts to the footage of Trump. Dante says: “I don’t want a president who makes fun of me. I want a president who inspires me. And that’s not Donald Trump.”
Will Feltus, a Republican advertising strategist not involved with any 2016 presidential campaign, said using real people like Latchman and Grace’s family “makes the spots more believable.”
While it’s more costly and time-consuming for political groups to find, vet and film real people for ads, the payoff is that it can help clear the “believability hurdle,” Feltus said.
He pointed to Priorities USA commercials during President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign that featured testimonials of people who said they had been harmed by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s time at the helm of the financial firm Bain Capital.
Indeed a Priorities ad called “Stage” was deemed the most effective ad of the 2012 presidential campaign by Ace Metrix, a video analytics company that showed all of the ads to large focus groups. In that spot, a man who’d been fired from a paper plant in Indiana that Bain had acquired described feeling like he’d built his own coffin.
So far this year, the Grace ad by Priorities has played more in the greater Denver market than anywhere else, Kantar Media’s data show.
Democrats see women in places like the Denver suburbs as some of the most important voters in the election — and particularly turned off by Trump.
Over a 24-day period in June, the Grace ad aired an average of 303 times per day on broadcast television. The peak day was June 14 when it aired 673 times on broadcast TV, the data show.