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North Carolina Republican Party Invokes Wright

Throwing subtlety out the window, the North Carolina Republican Party began airing an ad today that seeks to tie the two Democrats running for governor to Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and, by extension, to Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Let's look at the ad first:

Wright's "god damn America" comment -- perhaps the most inflammatory of all of his public remarks -- is played prominently in the ad with the obvious intent of associating Obama with that sentiment and making the case that he is too extreme for North Carolina. And because Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and State Treasurer Richard Moore are supporting Obama for president, the ad suggests, then they too must be out of the mainstream in North Carolina.

Perdue and Moore are locked in a tight May 6 Democratic gubernatorial primary race to succeed Gov. Mike Easley (D), who is retiring after two terms in office. The Republicans, too, have a primary contest in the governor's race.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has insisted he will not engage in personal attacks on either Obama or Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) quickly sought to distance himself from the ad.

In a letter to the chairwoman of the North Carolina Republican Party, McCain asked her to take the ad down -- a request the party has not yet complied with.

"From the beginning of this election, I have been committed to running a respectful campaign based upon an honest debate about the great issues confronting America today," McCain wrote. "I expect all state parties to do so as well. The television advertisement you are planning to air degrades our civics and distracts us from the very real differences we have with the Democrats. In the strongest terms, I implore you to not run this advertisement."

Obama noted today that McCain and the Republican National Committee have both described the ad as inappropriate. "I take them at their word," he said. "And 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."

But McCain well knows that he can't control the message that comes out of the state parties or -- more importantly -- from independent conservative organizations (ala Swift Boat Veterans for Truth).

That fact is both a good and a bad thing. It's bad in that state parties and outside organizations can confuse and counter the message McCain's campaign is seeking to put out. But, it's good in that these outside groups can also carry a controversial message (like Rev. Wright's fiery sermons) that could well help Republicans at the ballot box but that are too hot for McCain to touch.

The Obama campaign has said that North Carolina will be a battleground state if the Illinois senator is the Democratic nominee in the fall. If so, is this the leading edge of an attempt to define him as outside the mainstream and discourage his campaign from playing here in the fall?

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 23, 2008; 5:53 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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