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Jeff Barth, Political Video Genius

Last updated on 2013.01.06

Is Jeff Barth the change South Dakota Democrats have been waiting for? His new campaign video suggests he could be:

Oh, that mannequin: yes, Jeff, yes!

Barth's video, unlike Kristi Noem's early Texas-filmed ads in 2010, was shot entirely in South Dakota, at Great Bear Recreation Area. It has 14,901 views as of this morning, one day after posting. That's twelve times more views than every other video Barth has posted on YouTube combined. That's more than seven times the views of Matt Varilek's campaign intro video from December.

Those views are driven by quality and by attention from the local media. Jonathan Ellis from that Sioux Falls paper calls it an "instant classic." He's right: In five minutes, Barth shows us his subtle (or profound?) and not-so-subtle wit (Exhibit A: the tone-perfect tempering of the rough-tough rifle-shooting with a croaking rubber chicken). He also shows his keen grasp of how to use modern media to repackage the standard resume, attack-dog lines, and pitch for votes and donations into a memorable, shareable online video. Even folks who don't give a rip about politics or about South Dakota are watching and talking about it.

That's buzz. That's what every candidate wants. That's what Jeff Barth now has.

David Montgomery notes the video's clear pedigree as an offshoot of this 2009 Johnny Walker ad:

The Man Who Walked Around the World... get the connection? Barth's video is no casual knock-off; it means something at every turn!

Barth is also getting national attention. Huffington Post calls Barth's production "the strangest campaign ad of 2012." Tim Murphy of Mother Jones calls it "the campaign ad we've been waiting for." Mediaite's Jon Bershad can't even spell South Dakota right, but he says Barth's combo of amazing and bizzare wins him over. ABC notes Barth's chess playing skills... and this video looks like a remarkable pawn-queen gambit.

Less than two weeks from the primary, Barth has scored a media coup. He's gotten nearly 15,000 people to watch a tubby white guy strolling down a dirt path in Minnehaha County while talking about South Dakota and D.C. politics. Well done, Jeff!

Update 2012.05.26 13:50 CDT: Taté Walker takes to her blog to give props to Barth's video and Barth himself:

I absolutely love the video. It's got The Demographic (18-34 + cool old folks) written all over it. It also has Barth written all over it, too. He's a fun guy. An honest guy. He's someone you gotta be on your toes around, because he'll throw weird pop-culture shit or some random-but-important fact at you when you least expect it. Back in my reporter days (2006-2008), I covered Minnehaha County for the Argus Leader. I got to know Barth as he was campaigning the first time around for his commission seat. He immediately distinguished himself as a politician ready to go on the line in the name of transparency for his constituents. He was willing to talk at any hour and would spend 30, sometimes 40 minutes on the phone with me just to discuss the one item on the commission agenda I didn't understand. He'd often talk about chess (I played in middle/high school #nerdalert!). He'd talk about current news items and county items that would soon become news. He was fair-mined, well spoken, and super-competent [Taté Walker, "Jeff Barth for Congress," WalkerWrackSpurt, 2012.05.25].

And as of this moment, Barth's video now has over 80,000 views on YouTube. As Nick Nemec says below, Barth is getting serious bang for the buck.


  1. Bill Fleming 2012.05.25

    Yup. He nailed it. Bravo, Jeff. Move to the head of the class!

  2. Nick Nemec 2012.05.25

    The Barth campaign is running on an absolute shoestring. I wonder if Jeff came up with this web ad or if it is an adviser's handiwork? Great staging, timing and sight gags. He's getting tons of unearned media attention across the net, talk about bang for your buck.

  3. Aaron Heidelberger 2012.05.25

    If this was a republican the head line would have said "Jeff Barth thinks riding and ostrich will help him in congress!" Then you would have preceded to pick apart every item. I have to admit I liked the video, maybe he will give Noem a run for her money.

  4. Bill Fleming 2012.05.25

    Nick, I always give credit to the client. If they don't buy the idea, it doesn't happen. Plus, Jeff totally pulled it off. I'm giving him all the juice even if it wasn't his idea. That took a lot of huevos. (...or as my father in law, Chester used to day, Jeff's got some serious 'gronoids'.)

  5. LK 2012.05.25


    I agree that he pulled it off.

    It seems, however, that Barth is going for the ironic hipster deconstructionist voter. Like I said on the Displaced Plainsman, I don't think there's enough of those voters in South Dakota to fill a Starbucks.

    I'll bow to your expertise; what am I missing?

  6. Nick Nemec 2012.05.25

    With less than two weeks out from the election Barth needs to leverage this ad into more buzz and SD media attention. Many SD voters are not connected to the online echo chamber and will never see or hear of this ad and Mr. Barth or for that matter his primary opponent.

    I agree Bill, Barth gets the credit for having the guts to try something out of the box and then pulling it off. That might be just the kind of non-traditional thinking we need in Congress to address our country's problems.

  7. larry kurtz 2012.05.25

    It will be interesting to see whether Mr. Barth evolves on his tepid support for ACA.

  8. Ashley Kenneth Allen 2012.05.25

    That was damn good! That might have just changed my vote. (If I actually let a campaign ad change my vote that is. Usually these things don't sway me.)

  9. Carter 2012.05.25

    That was an excellent ad. Personally, I would have stuck with the extended single shot they used in the Johnnie Walker ad (which is one of my all-time favorites), but this beats other political ads I've seen hands down.

    The fact that he's willing to use a bit of strong language to make his point is a plus, too. If he's willing to risk that (which most politicians don't seem to), it could be an indication that he's willing to go against the grain on other issues, which is definitely needed in Washington.

  10. Bill Fleming 2012.05.25

    if Jeff is smart, he'll rife that walking meme all the way to congress.

    Keep 'em comin' Jeff.

    We'll will be waiting for the next one. ou just made your first 'Beatles' album. Let's hope you're not a one hit wonder.

    LK, don't YOU want to see the next one?

    If so, there's your answer, brother.

  11. Bill Fleming 2012.05.25

    ...ride that meme... Not rife... ... Gawd I hate it when this iPad keeps 'correcting' my spelling. LOL

  12. Carter 2012.05.25

    Sure, Bill. Blame the iPad and not the wonderful Margaritas!

  13. Jana 2012.05.25

    I really liked this spot! I have to admit that it totally changed my perception of Jeff for the better. Does anyone know what agency put this together for him?

    Great job Jeff and team! Keep them coming.

  14. David Newquist 2012.05.25

    Can't help but compare this performance with the video of Noem's Argus Leader interview in which she says her attendance record at House committees is all a vast Democratic conspiracy.

    There is a complex but deft story board behind Jeff Barth's ad. He is clearly going down the right new media trail.

  15. LK 2012.05.25


    I want to see Jeff's version of the White Album after this Sgt Pepper homage, but I've been told I'm out of the mainstream so many times that I tend to believe that my peculiar tastes won't be shared by the majority of my fellow citizens.

  16. mike 2012.05.25

    Imagine if this ad makes him a media darling in SD? Free media combined with the willingness to say what needs to be said could create a credible opponent to Noem.

    This ad is a big first step in capturing the passion of the people in the SDDP. Now he will need money and help to win the primary.

  17. mike 2012.05.25

    I'm a republican and a conservative but I felt like Barth connected with me in this ad better than Noem does. She's so glitzed up, cliched and staged anymore that I tune her out...

    She doesn't talk about anything pertinent anymore. No town halls on debt ceiling, medicare etc. I would most likely agree with her if she advocated for something but she only wants to talk about pine beetles, flooding, education etc.

    I want to talk about the issues of the day.

  18. Bill Fleming 2012.05.25

    Go Mike! Right on, brother.

  19. kwn 2012.05.25

    Am I the only one who was afraid he'd have a heart attack while walking? In my opinion - not a flattering ad.

  20. D.E. Bishop 2012.05.25

    Hahahahahaha! That was great! I knew nothing of Jeff Barth, but he's got my vote -- all the way from MN!

    He's honest, blunt, and little goofy. What wonderful qualities in a politician.

  21. SDprogressive 2012.05.25

    I believe the total views on YouTube have past 30,000 (more than voted in the last democratic primary) but that doesn't include the embedded videos from MSNBC, HuffPost and ABC News

  22. Douglas Wiken 2012.05.25

    Views from those outside South Dakota won't make much difference unless they decide to dump money into the Barth campaign.

    I am wondering if the endorsements from Daschle and Johnson in the primary will help or just tie Varilek to incumbents or former incumbents...probably none of which are particularly popular after supporting the big buccaneer banks and bunko brokers and foreign insurance companies.

  23. Troy Jones 2012.05.25

    I am with kwn. Did he run a mile before starting the ad? I thought he was going to fall down or have a heart attack.

    This said, a good ad and it might make a difference.

    But if it throws JB over the top, isn't ironic he would be essentially a social media darling?

  24. Lee Schoenbeck 2012.05.26

    I liked the ad - heck, I loved the ad. A GOP buddy emailed it to me and I was entertained by it. Who produced - they are a genius. Barth gets credit, as noted above, for having the guts to go with it - but man that's a clever person that did this. Also, where is it shot? Newton Hills? I didn't recognize the place?

  25. Barry Smith 2012.05.26

    Good ad- nice fresh change of pace from the phony -plastic- stay on talking points malarky that we are all used to and not a negative thing about Matt in there- unless I missed something ( always possible sometimes probable)- I like this guys spirit.

  26. larry kurtz 2012.05.26

    that's a .30 caliber or .223: blanks?

  27. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.05.26

    Hey, Aaron, I'm glad you liked the ad. Now, B.S. flag on your comment about what I would have said about a comparable Republican ad. You gain no rhetorical ground by arguing against the things you wish I had said in some alternate universe. If you can find an example of an actual GOP ad that I have unfairly criticized, then fire away, and let's make real comparisons. The real GOP ads I mention are Kristi Noem's ads, which she filmed in Texas, because South Dakota isn't good enough for her.

  28. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.05.26

    Larry, in that same New York Magazine interview, Barth says the ski hill is owned by the city but is out in the county. There's no mention in the rules you link that you can't shoot firearms (unlike GF&P parks)... and heck, he's a county commissioner! In South Dakota, doesn't that mean you can issue yourself a permit to shoot stuff wherever you want? ;-)

  29. Charlie Hoffman 2012.05.26

    Cory the permit to carry must come from a County Sheriff; elected by the people. The only law inforcement officer elected whom can only be arrested by the duly elected County Coroner.

  30. Charlie Hoffman 2012.05.26

    Watch for copy-cat ads coming this Fall mimicing Barths. I usually don't watch all u-tube video's because out here in fly over country they come in bit by bit by bit by bit and start boring me. Barth's ad led me to see what was coming next hence forcing me to watch the whole thing. Loved it too!! :)

  31. Rorschach 2012.05.26

    The ad is a real masterpiece. Say what you want about Barth. Joke about his gut. The man is smart. He wasn't supposed to crack the Republican monopoly of the Minnehaha county commission. He wasn't supposed to get re-elected. He found a way each time.

    If Barth makes it through the primary he may just find a way to pull off the upset victory against Noem. She's not widely loved. She's a manequin who spouts Warshington talking points. She's slow to offer tepid responses to criticisms - like her voting record (it's comforting to know she was actually at 7 of 20 ag committee/subcommittee meetings). This seat is ripe for the picking for a candidate with the right tools and the gut to use them.

  32. Testor15 2012.05.26

    Since the ad was published the same response keeps popping up "This guy sounds like a Tea Party patriot yet he bashes them. I don't get it?" It is real simple, everyone in the 99% is p**sed-off with the way the system is working. There actually is very little difference between most issues Americans are seeing, only the remedies.
    Conservatives, libertarians, GOP's and TeaBaggers are dreaming of something they think they may have seen in a mythical time in the past. To solve problems we have to go to the fantasy in their minds to dream up answers to take us into the future. Kind of like pulling the Keynesian Reagan out of the grave and pretending he would do the destructive things the TeaBaggers are trying to accomplish.
    The Blue-Dog, DLC-Clintonian, Corporatist, worn-out Pelosi liberals and average Washington Democrats think they know how to win elections by copying the actions of the aforementioned conservatives.
    Not an original thought or plan in the either group. They all hire the same greedy consultants and media types who get a percentage of the bloated ad buys just to say the same tired things.
    The establishment is missing the point of the original Occupy AND original Tea Party movements, the system is broken leaving us without Social Security, Medicare, Jobs, Housing, Roads, Bridges and other parts of the dreams of our forefathers. Fancy canned speeches and glossy candidates will not fix what is wrong.
    When person with a bit of authenticity shows up and dares to do something out of the box, it excites the people and scares the establishment. Daschle Dems and Thune - Janklow - Noem GOP establishments do not want authenticity, officeholders who actually know the direction they are headed.
    So what if an ad is recreated using an amazing concept. Before Barth showed us this approach, how many people had spent enough time on YouTube to see the Johnnie Walker version? Who cares, the point he is making has resonated now with over 90,000 viewers.
    Just think about this as you once again view the ad, there was 97,000 total voters in the 2010 SDak Presidential Primary Election for Clinton AND Obama. If someone like Barth can connect with 100,000+ people during a 24 hour period, 12 days before the election. How scared do you think the establishment could become?

  33. grudznick 2012.05.26

    I, too, have ridden an ostrich and have a giant beer belly, and enjoyed young Mr. Barth's stroll down a country road. But even I would not have become as winded walking downhill the whole way with my shirt untucked.

  34. grudznick 2012.05.26

    I have now watched the ad a second time. I am impressed by the young man. He should get your vote in the (D) run-off.

    Then he will likely get whomped.

    But it was a nice ad. He should do it going uphill next time.

  35. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.05.26

    Winded? I've heard a few people mention that. I don't see Barth gasping for breath.

    But suppose he was. Barth shoots a campaign video in an area that's somewhat out of his comfort zone. Instead of shooting in a climate-controlled studio, powdered and lit to highlight his best features, he goes for a long walk out in the sunshine, his ample girth clearly captured. If he huffs and puffs, he only shows more authenticity and less self-consciousness.

    I'm still thinking about what this video says about Barth's ability to serve in Congress. But on a pure literary analysis level, this video says a lot, and it's awfully fun to parse.

  36. Troy Jones 2012.05.27

    CH, the winded portion is most evident at the beginning. I get it when I walk the stairs to my office while talking on cell phone.

    I can't wait to see if all these YouTube views translate into votes.

    Before the ad came out, I thought JB's Sioux Falls name I'D vs MV's endorsements made the race close to a dead heat. I figured the SSM stances only rejiggered the votes around with little net effect.

    This ad is the tie breaker. In a small focus group (albeit Republicans), the one who watches politics closely said it is genius. The one who just votes and not active said it was stupid and mad JB look stupid.

    My gut is it pushes JB over the top because it is the only contact some primary voters had with either candidate. Quietest primary for national office I recall.

  37. Vickie 2012.05.27

    I also noticed that JB seemed somewhat "winded"...but I have to wonder if he was winded because maybe he had to do a number of practice runs to get the timing just right to do all of the activities at the right times all the while walking and talking and making his points with the passion and seriousness that the message required. When you think about have to wonder how many of the career politicians can walk and chew gum at the same time,let alone do what JB did in this video. I think this video is brilliant. He makes sense,gets his points across,and does it with a sense of humor.

    Personally,I'd cut the guy some slack. He strikes me as the average American that's just plain fed up with what goes on in DC and I give him a lot of credit for having the guts to say what many people are thinking and feeling. There's only so much BS that we can tolerate before somebody stands up and calls out the big shots for being horse's asses.

    Bottom line: We need someone to do right and stand up for the people and best interests of South Dakota. Kristi Noem isn't the right person for the job.

  38. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.05.27

    T15: Could Barth speak to Tea Party voters? Could he tap their frustration vand peel away some Noem votes? Vickie says he looks like "the acerage American that's just plan fed up"... that's important to this question!

    Troy, I won't pretend that YouTube views will translate into votes. I'd love to get inside the site stats and see how many of those hits are coming from South Dakota (15%?). And I would love to meet your focus group. The split in opinion you describe sounds like lit classes I've taught: you have uninterested readers who glance at the text and say, "It's just some guy walking walking around; what's the big deal?" Then you have interested readers who dig into the text and can see all of the expertly layered meanings. That supports my conclusion that, at the very least, Barth's video is really good "literature."

  39. Barry Smith 2012.05.27

    I am wondering if we will another one in the coming week. It would be risky. If it was not as good as this one it would kill the buzz, but if it were as good or even better- Wow it might just get people off their keisters and go vote.

  40. Bill Fleming 2012.05.27

    It would be great if a high percentage of voting South Dakotans see it, Cory. But what's most important is that these people see it, and I think that's what's happening. It's an 'influentials' campaign.

  41. Bill Fleming 2012.05.27

    Ps. Forget about John Galt, Who is John Barth? LOL

  42. Troy Jones 2012.05.27

    Vickie, I don't think it is a real criticism. My guess is it was a later take and he walked up instead of riding in whatever carried the camera.

    CH, the purpose of a campaign ad IS to get votes. And, losing the person who doesn't get the "layers" is counter-productive.

    Not wanting to put words on Bill, I am reading between the lines, he thinks the value is something other than getting votes.

  43. Vickie 2012.05.27

    Troy,some would say that it's not real criticism and some would. I've been reading various replies here and using the links that Cory provided...and have read some rather insulting views of Barth's video. Then again,I have read more comments from other sites that are very complimentary of the video. Compliments coming from people around the USA. He's gotten the attention of people that wish there were more people running for office that are like him. Will it turn into more South Dakotan's votes? Who knows.

    I like Cory's view about some not seeing all of the layers of the message or text. One of my fav. classes in high school was literature and I "get" the layers. One of my all time fav. authors is Dickens...especially A Tale of Two Cities. Tons of layers and deeper meanings. Same with Shakespeare or Orwell. (geez I can remember that stuff from high school even though I graduated 29 years ago.) We need people to "get" the layers. If they don't understand or care about "layers" from something like really great literature,then we most likely can't expect those same people to get deeper meaning when it comes to politics or even everyday life. Rather scary.

    If Bill does believe that the value is more than just votes...I get that too. Perhaps it's about time that our candidates stand up and let us know that a great many people are mad as hell and we're tired of getting screwed without so much as getting a kiss. ;)

  44. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.05.27

    Troy, I agree, Barth has to get all the votes he can. A video that gets views but loses votes is a failure. But remember, this video is playing to the Dem primary electorate, and we're all pointy-headed literature analyzers, right? <:-) Seriously, Bill's point about influentials has merit. Winning over the influentials may counter the vote-loss Troy sees. Those influentials write blog posts, have water-coooler conversations, and spread their thoughts in other ways. Those less attentive voters may say, "I heard about that video. It was kinda dumb; I only watched the first minute or so before switching back to cute puppies. But my friend Bob at work says Barth's got his poop in a group, so I guess I'll vote for him." Maybe Barth is campaigning the way I teach (low budget, with desperate effort the last couple weeks? Wait, that's not what I meant!). Sometimes you aim for the A students, knowing the C students aren't going to get it. Next you take another swing to pick up those C students. Barry mentions Barth's next step: maybe that's what 's coming. Maybe Barth now issues a series of short, snappy, direct issue-focused videos to grab those voters who don't wholly dig the higbrow video-literature we're swooning over here.

  45. Rorschach 2012.05.27

    It would serve Barth well to remind independent voters they can vote in the Democratic primary now. I don't think that's well known among independent voters yet. His message should resonate with independents if he can get them to the polls. Hildebrand can help him get voters to the polls and is now motivated to do that. Barth the chess player is a week away from checkmate.

  46. Troy Jones 2012.05.27

    I have no idea of the vote effect. Nothing I said was meant to indicate one way or another.

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