Dan Adler, a Democratic candidate running for an open seat in California’s 36th district, certainly has learned a thing or two about publicity after a 25-year career in the entertainment industry. An ad he cut this week targeting Asian voters was so bizarre and — according to one critic, “vaguely racist” — that it went viral almost instantly on political and entertainment sites alike. Another slogan used in his ads, “Dan Adler: He Gets Shit Done” is a jarring departure from usual fare. Is Adler for real? Or is his candidacy secretly performance art?
TPM reached out to Adler and there’s no denying that he means business with his campaign, touting his tech-heavy background as a Disney executive, his work with various non-profits in the area, and his pro-Israel bonafides as Congressional material.
“I take it extremely seriously,” Adler told TPM over the phone. “The idea I’m doing it for a put-on is insulting and disrespectful. I’m doing it exactly the way Thomas Jefferson wanted it done.”
Nor can he be dismissed as a fringe candidate based on his fundraising — he says he has put together over $200,000 in less than six weeks for the May 17 primary. (The most recent FEC filings, which lag actual fundraising, show Adler has raised $110,000.) He’s been buoyed in part by appeals from celebrities like singer Macy Gray, All In The Family creator Norman Lear, and “The Lord Of The Rings'” Sean Astin (“Mr. Frodo!”), who also serves as his campaign manager and announced his new position with a filmed parody of the football movie “Rudy.”Adler attracted the most attention for an ad he ran targeting Asian voters that featured a Korean immigrant in a laundromat interrupting him with such phrases as “I’m Korean!’ “You are Jewish!” and the ad’s message “We minorities should stick together!”
Some critics, such as the Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins, derided the ad’s portrayal of Asian Americans as “incredibly awkward at best” and “vaguely racist” at worst, but Adler dismisses such criticism as typical Internet negativity. He said the ad came from a very personal place, his relationship with his Korean American wife and his Korean immigrant in-laws.
“The last thing I ever would do is something that would disrespect them or their background and culture,” he said. “The spot is about this connection, this sort of wink between she and I on that notion of sticking together.”
As for the laundromat owner in the ad, he said that he was trying to give an accurate portrayal of race relations.
“It was an issue of this honest experience of what really happens with people from a somewhat different culture,” he said. “My wife’s parents immigrated from Korea and they speak English pretty well, but honestly the woman in the spot speaks English just as well as my mother-in-law — she reminds me of her a lot actually.”
As for his ads featuring the slogan “Dan Adler: He Gets Shit Done,” including one web video (not featured on his website) featuring his young son saying the phrase, Adler also labeled the message “honest.”
“The point came up the moment we got into the race because it was one of the things everyone was always saying about me,” he said. “I’m not running a ‘Leave It To Beaver’ campaign, I’m running a real campaign.”
As candidates like Mike Huckabee and his hugely successful Chuck Norris ad in 2007 have demonstrated, a standout viral video can make all the difference for an underdog in a crowded field. Adler says he hopes his ad will do the same, igniting voters in what is expected to be a low-turnout primary who might not have otherwise came to the polls.
“If being unconventional will wake some of them up, then I am thrilled to be a part of that,” he said.
Despite Adler’s increasing national profile, he’s still a longshot. His campaign has been outraised by two Democrats with elected experience, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen and LA city council member Janice Hahn, who are considered the favorites in the race. It’s a jungle primary, however, meaning the top two finishers regardless of party move onto the general election — if he can eke out even a surprise second place finish he could keep his campaign alive.