The Republican primary battle between would-be California senatorial candidates Carly Fiorina and Tom Campbell has so far gained only minor attention outside the state. But a bizarre new web ad from Fiorina's campaign is drawing astonished laughter nationwide and giving new hope to a conservative candidate who has been a distant third in the polls.

What MSNBC's Rachel Maddow describes as "the attack ad so bad no one wanted to believe it was real" begins with a flock of sheep grazing peacefully as a voice intones, "Purity. Piety. ... Wholesome. Honorable." But after two minutes of straightforward attacks on Campbell's positions, it abruptly switches to images of a demonic sheep with glowing red eyes menacing the flock.

"Tom Campbell. Is he what he tells us?" a voice-over intones menacingly. "Is he what he's become over the years -- a FCINO? Fiscal Conservative in name only?"

The ad has already spawned a host of snarky comments and bad puns. "Wildest attack ad ever, complete with devil sheep, paints GOPer Tom Campbell as bleating heart," the San Francisco Chronicle headlined its story. There is even an active "#demonsheep" tag on Twitter, dedicated to mockery and jokes at Fiorina's expense.

In a poll taken two weeks ago, Campbell led Fiorina by 30% to 25%, with both trailed by conservative Chuck DeVore. It seems unlikely that Fiorina will make up any ground with her latest venture, but DeVore may be hoping to gain by his pledge that his own campaign will remain "a demon-sheep-free zone."

DeVore's campaign has now created a website for the Society for the Eradication of Demon Sheep from Our Political Discourse, which asks supporters to "pledge your efforts to stop these Jawa-like, Terminator-esque, Demon Sheep from taking over California" and promises "your email will be kept strictly private and never shared with demon sheep."

Maddow joined the pile-on Wednesday, noting that Fiorina has "topped even 'Carlyfornia Dreaming,'" an animation formerly featured on her campaign website which claims that the difference between her and Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer is like the difference between "day & night ... cats & dogs."

"FCINO," Maddow mused, pointing out that "the thing about catchy acronyms is you have to be able to say them. What Carly Fionina has unleashed here is a 'fi-si-no'?"

"And what's with the guy in the homemade-looking sheep mask with the glowing red eyes?" Maddow continued. She cut to the conclusion of the ad, in which the demon sheep is revealed as just a man in a fuzzy coverall, crawling around the meadow on hands and knees. "Run, the furry! Run, the furry!" Maddow exclaimed.

As it happens, the Fiorina campaign was not the first to come up with the concept of evil sheep. In the 2006 New Zealand horror/comedy movie Black Sheep, genetic manipulation gone wrong produces a race of killer sheep and even more horrific weresheep, when their bites "transform a human into a bloodthirsty half-sheep monstrosity."

The full ad can be seen at YouTube.

This video is from MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast Feb. 3, 2010.

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