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David Sirota, a national radio host and pundit who used to work on Governor Schweitzer’s campaigns, recently brought to light a new development in an otherwise dormant Montana controversy--the Mike Taylor ad.

In 2002, the Mike Taylor ad was all the rage in Montana politics.  Max Baucus was up for re-election, and the Montana Democratic Party ran an effective and nasty ad against Baucus’s opponent, Mike Taylor, that pretty much finished him off.  They’d unearthed video of Taylor from his days as a 1970s Denver hairdresser. It was from an infomercial in which Taylor had a male client in the salon chair, and was talking to the camera about the value of face cream. He rubbed the cream into the guy’s temples while he was discussing the importance of moisturizing.

Taylor was also dressed like a slightly less masculine version of Jon Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.  At one point on the video, he reaches his hand down into the pubic vicinity of the guy sitting in the chair, and this action is accentuated (in the campaign ad) with a slow zoom and a tricky cropping of the video. (Here's the ad.)

To make matters worse for Taylor, he had spent the campaign season dressed up as Teddy Roosevelt, with a lumberjack shirt and boots, and wire-rimmed spectacles to go with his toothy grin and push-broom mustache, talking about the all of his big game trophies and other tough-guy accomplishments.  This effort to market himself as a Montana Archetype was quickly deflated by the hairdresser ad.

And when the ad hit the airwaves, rather than just laughing it off by saying that everybody (or at least lots of people) dressed and looked funny in the 1970s, stupid Taylor instead gave a press conference at which he broke into tears and accused Baucus of suggesting that he was gay. That was the end of the campaign, but not the controversy.

Some leading Democrats actually complained about the anti-gay overtone of the ad, which was effectuated with a camera trick that turned what was probably an innocent motion of Taylor’s hand into what looked like a crotch-grab. The ad also did a zoom and slomo of Taylor's hands rubbing the moisturizer into the guy's temples.  There was little doubt as to what the creators of the ad were implying.

Baucus, as you might guess, was shocked, shocked to discover that such and ad had been made by the Democratic Party and he immediately made it clear he'd had nothing to do with the commercial.  And his statements implied that he did not condone the obvious “gay baiting” employed in it.

Putting aside the gay-baiting, it would actually have been illegal for Baucus to have been involved in the making of the spot in any way, because it would have been an “illegal coordination” between his campaign and the Democratic Party.  These entities may not collaborate on TV ads.  It would be a violation of federal law.

And yet in Businessweek magazine last week, Baucus slipped up in an interview, admitting that his campaign had had a hand in the making and airing of the commercial, and that he himself had received advanced notice of it and even got an opportunity to sign off on it.  His admission was made in the context of describing the talents of his former Chief of Staff, Jim Messina, who is now Obama’s campaign manager and was the subject of the Businessweek article.  Baucus used the Mike Taylor ad as evidence of Messina’s prowess as a political operative, since Messina was his campaign manager when the Taylor ad ran.

Baucus says:

Jim is tough. I’ll never forget when he showed me that ad. We were in Bozeman in a motel. The curtains were drawn. He said, ‘Max, what do you think?’ They were afraid I wasn’t going to like it. I loved it!
Perhaps Baucus had a momentary mental lapse, and forgot that his participation in the enterprise was supposed to be on the hush hush.  Or maybe he just decided that it no longer matters because it was so long ago.  If nothing else, it’s an opportunity for us all to revisit a very famous, if inappropriate,campaign ad.  And as for Mike Taylor, he was a right-wing buffoon who pretty much deserved everything he got, regardless of who was involved or how inappropriate it might have been.

And, as a post-script, I will add that Mike Taylor, and his wife Janna who is a right-wing GOP state senator, recently topped the list of federal farm subsidy recipients in Montana--they’ve pocketed $1,000,000 worth of checks from the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, much of it for simply sitting on their asses.  So Baucus had it partially correct: Mike Taylor is a queen--a welfare queen.

Sirota's article in Salon is here. This diary is cross-posted at the Montana Cowgirl Blog.

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