Ads reminiscent of the Republican’s 1988 gruesome spot featuring Willie Horton, targeting seem like they are here to stay. This cycle we’ve seen two such ads.
The first “Willie Horton” ad to come across our transom was released by Alaska Senator Mark Begich’s campaign targeting his Republican opponent, Attorney General Dan Sullivan. (For this ad, the Begich campaign was asked by the victim’s family to take the ad down out of respect for the victim.)
The second “Willie Horton” ad has now popped up in Nebraska, this time sponsored by the National Republican Campaign Committee for Republican Representative Lee Terry, targeting Terry’s Democrat opponent, Brad Ashford.
Here’s Politico’s write-up on the latest ad
By: Kevin Robillard
National Republicans are trying to save Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry with a television ad members of both parties are comparing to one of the most infamous spots in political history.
The National Republican Campaign Committee’s ad, titled “Nikko,” hits Democratic nominee Brad Ashford, a state senator, for supporting the state’s “good-time” law, which eliminates one day from a prison sentence for every day a convict spends behind bars without incident. The ad is named after Nikko Jenkins, who was released from prison early under the law and went on to murder four people in the span of 11 days one month after his release.
Jenkins, an African-American with face tattoos, is shown yelling at television cameramen early in the ad. It ends with his mugshot side-by-side with a picture of Ashford.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called for the NRCC to pull the ad off the airwaves.
“This repellent, race-baiting ad has no place in America, and national Republicans should apologize and take it down immediately,” DCCC spokeswoman Ashley Lewis said. “Republicans should be ashamed that they have resorted to divisive rhetoric, playing up racial stereotypes and fear-mongering to save their sinking candidate.”
The Ashford campaign said the ad was a sign of increasing desperation from Republicans. On Thursday, Terry’s campaign began airing a spot of its own linking Ashford to ISIS’ beheading of American journalists.
“Between Congressman Terry’s fear mongering on beheadings yesterday and this latest ad today, it’s clear that Congressman Terry is fearing for his political life and will say and do anything to keep his $174,000 salary,” Ashford campaign manager Kurt Gonska said. “He’s not ready for voters to send him into retirement and back to his ‘nice house.’”
The NRCC defended their ad in a statement.
“Brad Ashford’s disturbing support for Nebraska’s ‘Good Time Law’ let Nikko Jenkins out of prison early and resulted in the murders of four people,” NRCC spokesman Tyler Houlton said. “The fact that Brad Ashford still defends this law is disgusting, and he has no business running for Congress in the first place.”
Houlton also made it clear the NRCC had no plans to take down the ad: “Brad Ashford’s dangerous record on crime is fair game. Nebraska voters deserve to know that Brad Ashford supports policies that have made them less safe.”
The ad drew immediate comparisons to Republicans’ 1988 ad featuring Willie Horton, a convicted felon who raped a woman, assaulted her boyfriend and stole their car while on a weekend furlough from a prison in Massachusetts. The ad, in the words of GOP ad maker Lee Atwater, sought to make Horton the “running mate” of Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis, who was governor of Massachusetts at the time of Horton’s furlough. (The George H.W. Bush campaign would later run a tamer ad on the same subject.)
Ashford is in an unexpectedly close race with Terry, who is seeking a ninth term representing the Omaha-based district that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won by 7 points in 2012. While he has outraised Ashford by a more than 3-to-1 margin and has $300,000 more in cash-on-hand, a series of foot-in-mouth moments over the past several years has left Terry vulnerable.
Terry isn’t the first incumbent to link his opponent to a criminal recidivist this cycle. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) was forced to pull an ad hitting former Republican state Attorney General Dan Sullivan for a double murder and child sexual assault committed by a man freed by a state database error.