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How Republicans Are Using Women, the Internet and Reality TV to Elect Candidates

But was the GOP’s most provocative online ad of 2014 worth the money and eye rolls?

A political ad produced by the College Republican National Committee (CRNC) in October has polarized the public and caused a media firestorm. But polls show it may not be as effective as planned.

The “Say Yes to the Candidate” ads are an online parody of the popular TLC reality series, “Say Yes to the Dress,” with a young female voter likening two gubernatorial candidates to wedding gowns.

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The CRNC produced at least seven different spots framed around seven different gubernatorial races. In each, the prospective bride chooses the Republican dress over the Democratic challenger. The videos have received nearly 250,000 collective views since debuting on YouTube and Alexandra Smith, the chairperson for the CRNC, is calling the campaign a success. However, other media outlets aren’t nearly as positive.

“The Daily Show’s” Kristen Schaal mocked the videos for reducing women to a stereotype in a segment that aired a week after the ads went up. Cosmopolitan magazine then called the campaign the most condescending ad ever. While Time went so far as to name it the most sexist Republican ad of 2014.

“We knew that the media wasn’t going to understand it and that the Democrats weren’t going to like it,” Smith told TheWrap. “They’re not our target audience.”

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Smith also questions the charges of sexism, considering the campaign was written and produced by her and her female colleagues.

But the CRNC’s goal wasn’t merely to gain attention. Smith thinks this campaign is going to be a game changer in Tuesday’s elections.

“I think you can see that our efforts overall in some of the states are making a difference,” Smith said. “What we committed to in our $2 million field program was to put 30 staffers in 16 competitive states and $1 million worth of ads, including the ‘Say Yes’ ads, to bolster our efforts on campus.”

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“In Michigan, Governor Snyder has increased his lead with women significantly,” Smith continued. “I don’t think it’s any accident that our efforts have been particularly successful there.”

Recent polls show Rick Snyder neck-and-neck with his democratic opponent Mark Schauer. In the other races targeted by the CRNC, only Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race between Republican Tom Corbett and Democrat Tom Wolf shows a clear frontrunner — Wolf.

The liberal challenger has a double-digit lead over the incumbent governor in most polls.

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Whether or not the CRNC’s efforts are effective in influencing female voters has yet to be seen but the strategy is one that is catching on as a way to speak to the young electorate, instead of relying on expensive TV ads that have long been used to appeal to older voters. The Wesleyan Media Project found that candidates released 12 percent fewer TV spots than in 2010’s midterm elections

“In recent years, we’ve armed viewers with technological tools that have allowed them to avoid advertising whenever they choose,” said Republican political strategist Dan Schnur, who’s also running as a non-partisan candidate for California secretary of state. “So getting a political message through to them is much more difficult.”

Online ads like “Say Yes to the Candidate” can burn up the Internet at a fraction of the cost of a TV spot. But according to Schnur, a smart campaign still shells out the cash for TV time.

“Television advertising doesn’t have nearly the same impact today as it did a decade ago but it’s still the most effective way of reaching most voters,” Schnur said. “Even though campaigns are putting more and more of their resources into digital media than ever before, at least for the time being, old-fashioned TV ads are still king.”

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Despite the overall numbers of TV ads dropping, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, candidates still spent a whopping $1.2 billion dollars to reach TV viewers this campaign season.

The CRNC has proven though that sometimes all it takes to get your candidate on television is a much-talked-about online video.

“Washington is out of touch with the way young voters are consuming political information,” says Smith, “but we’re not.”

Watch the CRNC’s “Say Yes to the Candidate” video below.