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Ad Controversies

Two blow-ups over TV ads in a couple of key races could cause a problematic backlash against Republicans. 

The Tennessee Senate race has been close enough that if Rep. Harold Ford (D) wins it, nabbing not only a Republican seat but the one held by the outgoing Majority Leader, some will point to the controversial Republican National Committee ad and call it a decisive moment.  Until now, Ford has run perhaps the best campaign of any Democratic Senate candidate this cycle, positioning him to take advantage of any backlash among African-Americans that might arise over what critics call the ad's implicit racism in showing a scantily-clad blonde asking Ford to call her, conjuring up an image of interracial dating. 

RNC chair Ken Mehlman told NBC's Tim Russert yesterday that he doesn't think the ad reflects any such sentiment and that he's legally prohibited from having it pulled because the ad is paid for by an independent expenditure fund with which he can't have any contact.  Coincidentally, Mehlman is campaigning in his home state of Maryland today, where he personally recruited African-American Lt. Gov. Michael Steele to run for the Senate.

Ford told MSNBC yesterday, "I know that they are a little desperate and doing the things that you do when you get desperate in a campaign."  GOP nominee Bob Corker has called for the ad to be pulled.  (Then again, it's also possible that the ad will turn a crucial percentage of voters off of Ford.)

Today, Sen. Barack Obama (D) will send an e-mail on behalf of Ford and other top Democratic Senate candidates saying, "You know the kind of ads we're going to see in these last days.  They'll play on our fears, they'll try to divide us, and they'll try to distract us from the real issues in this race."  The e-mail solicitation will go to Sen. John Kerry's list of 3 million supporters, per Kerry's office.

And Rush Limbaugh's suggestion on his radio show yesterday that actor Michael J. Fox is exploiting and exaggerating his illness -- Fox has Parkinson's -- in TV ads for Democratic Senate candidates just isn't going to play well, even though Limbaugh has since apologized.  Fox cut the spots for a couple of Democrats because they favor federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.  The New York Times' TV critic writes about the ads, which show him swaying back and forth uncontrollably:  "Mr. Fox's display of the toll Parkinson's disease has taken on him turned into one of the most powerful and talked about political advertisements in years…  The issue of embryonic stem cell research is divisive, but Mr. Fox is not." 

USA Today: "Democrats and interest groups are using ads, campaign events and celebrities in at least 20 House, Senate and governor races to push for more federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.  Fox's dramatic ads are 'very effective' with suburban voters, seniors and parents, says Evan Tracey of the non-partisan Campaign Media Analysis Group...  'It puts the Republicans on the wrong side of hope.'"