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Bill Clinton endorses Republican in 5th district! Or maybe not

If you flipped on the radio in Virginia's 5th congressional district this week, you might have gotten the impression that former President Bill Clinton is wading into the crowded primary there. The Republican primary.

Property developer Jim McKelvey, one of several Republicans competing in the June 8th primary for the nomination to face Rep. Tom Perriello (D), went on the air in recent days with a radio ad purporting to feature Clinton endorsing state Sen. Robert Hurt for the GOP nod. "I like him," Clinton says of the Republican frontrunner. "I would vote for that man, Robert Hurt, because he likes taxes like me."

Of course, that's not really Clinton in the ad. It's an actor delivering a less-than-stellar impersonation of the 42nd president. (No word on whether it's the same guy who does the impersonator ads for Jerry's Subs & Pizza, but they do sound alike.)

McKelvey's aim is to use a little humor to make the case he and Hurt's other opponents have been trying to make via other means -- that Hurt doesn't deserve the Republican nomination because he supported then-Gov. Mark Warner's (D) tax-raising budget in 2003. But Hurt's campaign was not amused.

According to McKelvey's camp, Hurt's lawyers have written to local radio stations to say: ""One of the two ads currently airing on your station contains a purported endorsement of Mr. McKelvey's opponent, Robert Hurt, by former President Bill Clinton. While presumably intended to be satirical, this ad does not state that the voice is an impersonation of President Clinton could be a violation of Section 43 (a) of the Lanham Act concerning an individual's right to publicity."

McKelvey campaign manager Brian O'Connor said his team had heard from two stations that got the letter -- WBTM in Danville and WLNI in Lynchburg -- and that both stations had pulled the ad as a result.

O'Connor said McKelvey's campaign believed the ad was legally acceptable "unless you think the majority of the people [who hear it] are deceived by this," and he doubts many listeners would really believe that was Clinton endorsing Hurt. "We had a lawyer look at it and we didn't think it was a problem," O'Connor said.

The Hurt campaign had not responded to a request for comment as of this posting. Perhaps Clinton will call back on the campaign's behalf.

By Ben Pershing  |  June 4, 2010; 1:05 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Virginia Congressional Races , Ben Pershing , Jim McKelvey , Robert Hurt  
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