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Down-Ticket GOP Candidates Find a Foil in Obama

Updated 04/24/08
By Paul Kane
Republican party committees and candidates have launched a series of ads this week linking Democratic candidates for lower offices to controversies surrounding Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, signaling that a racially tinged campaign may lie ahead, should the senator from Illinois secure the Democratic nomination.

The North Carolina Republican Party today unveiled an advertisement showing Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, giving a controversial sermon in which he shouts "god damn America." Though the commercial attacks Obama by name, its real targets are the two leading Democratic contenders for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, who will be on the ballot for the May 6 primary that will also decide N.C.'s Democratic presidential pick.

The Democratic candidates, Bev Perdue and Richard Moore, have endorsed Obama. "They should know better. He's just too extreme for North Carolina," says the ad's narrator.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee, denounced the ad, and Obama suggested that it was up to McCain and the Republican National Committee to stop it from being aired.

"I assume that if John McCain thinks that it's an inappropriate ad, that he can get them to pull it down since he's their nominee and standard bearer," Obama told reporters while campaigning in Indiana.

Late today, the party's web site was still soliciting donations to keep the ad on the air.

Most Republican leaders on Capitol Hill last year mapped out their campaign strategies expecting the nominee to be Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), believing she would drive conservatives who despise her to the polls. But the new effort to link Obama to other Democratic candidates demonstrates new confidence among Republicans in their ability to thwart his appeal to independents and moderate Republicans in downballot races.

"Stories of Barack Obama's alleged coattails should be regarded as nothing more than the audacity of hype," said Ken Spain, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

In Louisiana, where House Democrats have a rare chance to win a seat vacated by a veteran Republican incumbent, the NRCC came to the defense of its nominee Tuesday with an ad accusing state Rep. Don Cazayoux (D) of backing tax increases and the "radical health care agenda" supported by Obama.

"A vote for Don Cazayoux is a vote for Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi," the narrator says, referring to the House speaker.

An independent conservative group, Freedom's Watch, is on the air in the Baton Rouge market with a similarly themed ad that pictures Cazayoux on the screen with Obama under the heading, "big government scheme." The special election for that House seat is May 3.

In western Pennsylvania, a GOP challenger unveiled an ad on the campaign web site accusing freshman Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) of defending Obama after he told donors in San Francisco that white working class voters "cling to" gun rights and religion because they are "bitter".

"Barack Obama said our bitterness makes us cling to our religion, and our guns. This was simply an insult. But maybe the biggest insult of all is how Jason Altmire continues to defend Barack Obama," says Melissa Hart, the former representative who was ousted by Altmire in 2006 and faces a rematch this fall.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dismissed the building wave of ads against Obama, or even against Clinton, if she's the nominee. "This is just more of the same from National Republicans so disconnected they believe there has been great economic progress under George Bush," said DCCC spokesman Doug Thornell. "The reality is the American people simply don't trust Republicans and won't buy their false attacks launched from the gutter against strong Democratic candidates with independent records of getting things done."

By Web Politics Editor  |  April 23, 2008; 7:07 PM ET
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