Is Jed Bartlet backing McCain?


[UPDATE: Hey folks, I love the discussion that is going on with this post.  I especially love that I wasn’t the only one who detected a similarity in voices for the ad in question.  We’ve moved this blog on to WHYY server so if you’d like to comment on this post in particular, please click on this link and submit your comment there! Thanks and sorry for making you jump through the extra hoop.]

I’m usually pretty good about avoiding campaign ads when I watch television.  Fortunately, neither candidate has decided that the Scrubs-rerun-on-Comedy-Central crowd is pivotal to their election chances.  However, since I’ve stumbled upon this program called “The Olympics” (have you heard of it? stars a guy named Phelps and a mustachioed Slavic guy who yells about judges), I’ve gotten more than my fill of Obama and McCain messages.

I’m wondering if anyone else agrees with me that the voice over for McCain’s “Original Maverick” ad sounds a lot like Martin Sheen.  Every time I see the ad, it takes me about 15 seconds (half of it) to realize that it’s not Sheen lending his support to the Republican candidate.

A quick internet search has revealed that while no mainstream media or big blogs has written specifically about this, at least a few commenters have chimed in with this same opinion.  So at least I’m not crazy. Or maybe, since I’m finding agreement only among blog commenters, a group whose reputation is, shall we say, spotty, I am actually crazy.

Sheen’s recent work as the narrator in a couple of documentary films, Who Killed the Electric Car and The Poet of Poverty, has made me acutely  of his voice, which caused this commercial to jump out at me.

Was this intentional?  Knowing that a lot of progressives and possibly a few independents enjoyed Sheen’s turn as President Josiah Bartlet on The West Wing (the show did have about 17 million viewers at its peak), is the McCain campaign trying to capitalize on this.  Could they be trying to confuse the “low information voters” into thinking that the liberal Sheen is on his side?  Or is all just a big coincidence?

I’m done thinking about this for now but I’ll leave it to everyone else to discuss whether they’re also hearing the same voices that I am (for which I’m sure there’s some kind of medication).


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9 Responses to “Is Jed Bartlet backing McCain?”

  1. Linda Says:

    The voice in the commercial is not Martin Sheen. As a student of all things “Sheen”, please take my word for this.

    The voices share a similarity in cadence, but the pitch is different.

    Could they purposely be attempting to mimic Martin and fool those with a less critical ear? Possibly.

  2. Dan Pohlig Says:

    Thanks, Linda. I always end up realizing that it’s not Sheen but it usually takes me a few seconds. My wife doesn’t think it sounds like him at all.

    I just wanted to see if anyone else detects a similarity.

  3. Fred Says:

    I just saw that commercial again and I have the same thought each time I’ve seen it. I did a quick search and this post came up. I wondered briefly if there had been some slight from the Obama camp that could have so incensed Sheen. But considering his long history of liberal activism and especially his anti- war stance, I knew there was no way on the world old Jeb would shill for McCain. That being said, I would not put it past McCain’s camp to have done that intentionally. While we like to think we’re rational when making political choices, I don’t doubt that long after they seen the commercial, some voters could have a more positive emotional impression as a result of the association between the sheen like voice and mccain’s face, kind of like the way smells can evoke strong emotions.

  4. Plasticbugs Says:

    Whew, I googled it as soon as I heard it and found this post. Glad to hear that it’s not Sheen doing the voiceover on McCain’s ad. I think the McCain ad folks knew very well that people would mistake that sound-alike for Martin Sheen.

  5. Tim G Says:

    I am pretty sure that McCain’s narrator is Bob Magruder, who has been
    doing political ads for at least 20 years. Bush used him in ’04 for his
    ads. Magruder does his whimsical narration of that tawdry “Cheaters” TV
    Just about every time there is a Proposition on the ballot in California, someone hires him for an ad. His website is , and you can listen to the wide range of voices he does.

  6. Pat Says:

    I thought so, too. Just heard it and googled “Martin Sheen voiceover McCain” to see if I could find anything. This was the first site listed. Battlin’ Bartlett as a character owed not a little to McCain circa 2000 (not the current model)

  7. kc Says:

    i just saw a (new?) mccain ad that made me google the same question–it’s the ad with the “big letters” superimposed over pictures of towns and such, and the voice sounds very sheen-esque.

  8. JBY Says:

    Just wanted to say that I’m a casting director, and can tell you that the voice is neither Martin Sheen nor Bob Magruder. The McCain campaign chose the voiceover talent for the spots we’ve all been discussing precisely because the guy sounds like Martin Sheen, and as President Jeb Bartlett, touched a deep positive nerve with Americans. Believe me, as someone who has worked on several major campaign spots for a variety of candidates for both parties, the choice of voiceover talent was made very carefully, and after much market research. Sad isn’t it, that the campaign has to resort to something as smarmy and grasping at this?

  9. NtrlRedhead Says:

    Thanks to everyone for the comments. I’ve been searching for information on this because I just could not believe that Martin Sheen would do the ad, and I thought it really sounded like him. Thanks for the clarification. I know it’s all a game and strategy, but I think it’s a shame and desperate to resort to such tactics. This strikes me as the type of campaign tricks used during the Nixon era that Donald Segretti had an appropriate term for which is listed if you google Segretti.

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