Norm Woodel is one of those people in the world of politics whose face may not be that well known, but whose voice is right in the thick of it.
Woodel is a Chicago-based actor who’s often hired by ad agencies to provide the narration for TV commercials used in political campaigns. These include the feel-good image ads that try to boost a candidate’s name recognition, as well as the attack ads that trash an opponent.
You could hear his voice on one of the best-known political ads of the last decade: Hillary Clinton’s infamous “It’s 3 a.m.” commercial that she launched against Barack Obama during the 2008 brawl for the Democratic presidential nomination.
That was the commercial that depicted children asleep in their beds while a telephone rings ominously in the darkened background.
“It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep,” Woodel’s voice intones. “But there’s a phone ringing in the White House. Something is happening in the world … Who do you want answering the phone?”
Clinton released the dramatic TV spot to criticize Obama for his relative lack of experience on the national stage, and the commercial became a major topic of discussion in the media for quite a while.
“It was on the news solidly for seven weeks,” Woodel said. “’Saturday Night Live’ did a sketch around it. I think it was the kick in the butt that the Obama campaign needed to get serious about the campaign.”
Obama did, indeed, survive the “It’s 3 a.m.” commercial and went on to win the Democratic nomination. In fact, Woodel was hired by Obama’s consultants to do voice work for his TV spots.
Woodel, who’s 63, actually got his professional start in Georgia more than four decades ago as a news reporter and anchorman for WRBL, Channel 3 in Columbus.
One of his first major assignments was to drive to Atlanta and film an interview with Gov. Jimmy Carter.
“We had to shoot our own film at that time, and I was headed from Columbus to Atlanta for my first big interview with then-Gov. Carter, probably about the state budget,” Woodel recalled.
“I took the TV station artist with me so she could run the camera,” he said. “We did a 10-minute film interview — I felt really good about it — got back to Columbus and discovered she forgot to turn on the sound!”
“I like to joke and say I did the first silent interview with Jimmy Carter.”
Woodel survived that technical glitch and stayed in TV journalism, moving on to other jobs in Mobile, Orlando and Nashville.
While he was working TV news in Nashville, the music video craze hit the cultural landscape and Woodel was hired to act in music videos with Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire.
That experience motivated him to make the transition out of journalism and into acting and voice work. He’s done a lot of live theater, picked up an occasional guest role on series like “Matlock,” and provided the narration for such programs as the Weather Channel series, “When Weather Changed History.”
He has become a go-to talent at the national level for political commercials, which led him back to another involvement with Georgia politics.
A few weeks ago, Woodel got a call from the media firm AKPD, which hired him to do the narration in an ad they were producing for a gubernatorial candidate down in Georgia: Jason Carter, the grandson of the governor who did that “silent” interview with Woodel more than 40 years ago.
Woodel voiced the commercial and the Carter campaign started airing it in June.
As is typical in the business, Woodel has never actually met Carter, even though his narration is an integral part of Carter’s first set of commercials.
“I’ve been through Plains several times and met Jimmy Carter, but I don’t think I’ve ever met the grandchildren,” Woodel said. “I’ve never met or talked to him yet (Jason).”
Woodel’s career is an illustration of the strange and interesting paths that a person travels when he or she takes up the practice of politics.
“It truly is a circle, isn’t it?” he asked. “A circle of life throwing us for a loop now and then – and I love it.”
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report. His column appears Wednesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com.