Double speak: In bustling election season, voice actors put profession before personal politics

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This year, Mr. Anderson was hired to record a series of ads assailing Mr. Obama. Never aired or made public, the ads were produced by Democrats and shown to internal focus groups to gauge the impact of potential Republican attacks.

“That hurt,” Mr. Anderson said. “It was very painful to do those. But did I refuse? Absolutely not. I felt it would help Obama, so I read them as best as I could.”

So what, exactly, did he say?

“I don’t remember,” Mr. Anderson said with a laugh. “And even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.”

A (hectic) day in the life

The calls and emails can come at all hours from frantic producers across the country. We need a 30-second radio spot for a congressman in Indiana. Can you do it in 30 minutes?

“Once in a while, I get a 1 a.m. call,” Mr. Smith said. “Usually very late in a campaign. Probably in October. The last spots of the cycle, when they find out there’s a factual error in an ad or that they misquoted something. It’s often some small thing that needs to be fixed. So you just constantly live by your cellphone or are checking your email.”

Once upon a time — read: until the 1990s — being a political voice actor meant having to live in the Washington area. That was where the campaign media consultants were. More important, that was where the studios were.

Mr. Anderson remembers rushing from D.C. recording booth to suburban Virginia studio, appointment to appointment, in and out of cars and cabs, sometimes visiting the same studio three times in the same day. Many of the voice actors doing political work became friends, if only because they kept running into one another.

“For a number of years, we all used to get together on election nights and watch the returns together,” Mr. Smith said. “Every time a winner was announced, somebody would jump up and say, ‘I got that guy! I made him or her win!’ And everybody else would applaud.”

Today, the political voice actor community is largely fragmented, and the pace and volume of ad production have jumped sharply. Digital technology is to praise (or blame): Most actors, including Mr. Walker, have home studios, and spots that used to take up to six days to create and air now take less than six hours.

“It’s shocking how quickly they turn ads around,” Mr. Groeling said. “Ad cycles used to be one- or two-week buys. Now they’re doing them within hours of recent events or the previous night’s debates.”

Inside the recording booth, voice-over work remains unchanged. Actors are given scripts. A producer or consultant usually will patch into the call and offer specific directions.

You are a concerned mom. You are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. You are hopeful about the future of the country.

“The word ‘gravitas’ comes up amazingly often,” Mr. Walker says. “Producers love that one.”

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