From there, Ehlinger found work with the now legendary Dale Peterson, who became so popular that he inspired a parody on Will Ferrell’s humor website Funny or Die, and Rick Barber, who is in a July 13 runoff for the Republican nomination in Alabama’s second congressional district.
Ehlinger’s advertisements seem to be hitting their mark.
“Dale Peterson went from 5 percent in the polls to 28 percent of the vote in two, three weeks time,” Ehlinger said.
That the ads have alienated a few people along the way is part of the point. Ehlinger calls one of his strategies the “brier patch.”
“The idea is that you state a position that you know is not going to be popular to everybody,” he said. “You state a position that you know is going to get some people upset — specifically so the other side that agrees with you will come to your defense.”
Ehlinger calls his other tactic the “Nazareth strategy,” coined in reference to the Biblical verse in which Nathaniel doubts Jesus by asking, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
“I guess what it means is you are more impressed with someone who is a success outside of your hometown,” Ehlinger said.
In other words, as soon as a homegrown candidate shows up on national TV, his standing jumps in the eyes of locals. An appearance on Fox News can be huge for a grassroots campaign.
“You have to realize they’re all underdog candidates,” Ehlinger said.
Barber, a Tea Party favorite, helped force GOP frontrunner Martha Roby into a runoff, but still lagged by approximately 20 points in the June 1 primary.
“We ran our initial primary race on just hard, grassroots efforts — going door to door, driving a lot,” Barber said. “But we were still behind.”
With just over a month left before the runoff, Barber knew he could only shake so many hands in the 16-county district. His campaign was being outspent almost seven to one, too.
“In the primary my counterpart spent half a million dollars to my 75 thousand dollars,” Barber said.
What he needed, Barber explained, was to marry his message with the right director. Ehlinger was his man.
Once they connected, the production of the “Gather Your Armies” ad, from conception to final product, took about eight days.
Ehlinger met Barber at his home to talk ideas and philosophy, and, based on that discussion, drew up an initial script, which then bounced back and forth for revision. Ehlinger rented equipment, including a $150,000 camera, and found actors to play the roles of George Washington, Samuel Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
“There are a number of people — you wouldn’t believe — who advertise themselves as lookalikes for any character you want,” Barber’s campaign manager Yates Walker noted.
Finally, they gathered at Deja Vu Billiards, a Montgomery pool hall owned by Barber, and shot the spot in the course of about four hours.