"Part of this is like the old child's game, telephone--somebody tells somebody who tells somebody," McCarthy said. "Reporters would call the campaign and ask for reaction (to Feinstein's ad), and that's the first inkling we had about what exactly she was going to say."
Feinstein's attack was sharp. It accused Huffington of being a millionaire Texas carpetbagger and suggested he had dodged his California taxes.
McCarthy, Huffington, Khachigian, Wirthlin and others joined in a conference call to discuss their response.
As it turned out, the theme of Feinstein's commercial matched one of McCarthy's predictions. A counterattack script he had already proposed was approved on the phone with minor changes. By that evening, McCarthy finally had everything in place to begin making the commercial.
For the next several hours, his job was something like that of an orchestra conductor. He juggled staffs in three high-tech studios, each working on a different part of the ad.
The commercial took shape in a computer graphics room known as the "paint box." McCarthy's instructions to Jane Hutchins, the "paint-box artist," were simple: "I just said give me a nice background." Hutchins' desk looks like it's part airplane cockpit and part sketch pad. When she works, she watches a brightly colored video screen to see the scribbles she makes by drawing with an electronic pen on her desktop.
The computer work took about three hours. On top of a powdery, magenta background, Hutchins added snapshots of the candidates and words from the script. Out of necessity, the ad was structurally simple. There were no moving pictures. Only words, still pictures and sound.
"I wanted to keep the commercial simple, that was my point," said Huffington adviser Carlos Rodriguez. "We weren't going to win any creative awards here. If you can get creative and effective, that's great. But I'll go for just effective anytime."
Nearby, but in another building, an announcer recorded the script on an audiotape that was carried to McCarthy's studio.
All of the components were combined onto videotape in the editing studio, with McCarthy and his technicians. The editing process took about four hours. Shortly before midnight in Washington, the 30-second commercial was completed. McCarthy walked it up the street about two blocks to another studio, where it was transmitted to dubbing stations in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Overnight, the dubbing stations made more than 40 copies. And by morning, they were delivered throughout California, some by messenger and some by campaign staff. Total cost of producing the ad: about $5,000.
The commercial denied Feinstein's charge that Huffington avoided paying his California taxes. It went on to attack the Democrat, saying she, also a millionaire, had not paid federal taxes in some years.
By the evening of June 2, more than 10 million people throughout California had seen the commercial--within 24 hours of Feinstein's, and only hours after McCarthy stepped into his studio.
The Making of a Huffington Ad
By spending more than $10 million of his own money, Republican Senate candidate Mike Huffington has financed unprecedented campaign tactics. Huffington has leveled the race with Democrat Dianne Feinstein partly by responding quickly and massively to Feinstein's television ads.
* In Costa Mesa, Huffington's media buyer learns that rival Feinstein is purchasing time for a new commercial to begin the next day.
* In Washington, a Huffington ad maker reserves time at a video editing studio, orders time and staff for work on a graphics computer and hires an announcer.
* In Costa Mesa, the media buyer starts lining up time for an ad to show June 2.
Mid to late afternoon
* Political reporters seek the candidate's reaction to the not-yet-broadcast Feinstein commercial.
* Based on the second-hand descriptions, Huffington and his team agree by conference call on a response: a script worked up earlier in anticipation of the attack strategy.
Late afternoon to evening
* Feinstein's ad begins airing.
* In Washington, the ad maker assembles his crew at the studios, working on graphics and sound. Both steps take about three hours.
* The elements are combined in an editing studio; a 30-second videotape is created in about four hours.
Just before midnight
* The completed video tape is transmitted to dubbing stations in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
* Together, the dubbing stations reproduce about 40 copies of the commercial.
* The tapes are distributed to TV stations throughout the state, some by messenger, others by campaign staff.
* Huffington's commercial is on the air with a bigger purchase of ad time than Feinstein had. It is seen by more than 10 million people.