In Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District, where voters went to the polls Tuesday in a make-or-break election for the GOP, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee distributed one flier that linked Republican candidate Greg Davis to the Ku Klux Klan and another that accused the Republicans of trying to “play politics with religion and race.”
And in both Mississippi and Louisiana — where Democrats earlier this month took a seat the Republicans have held since 1974 — the DCCC aired ads on Christian radio stations tying GOP candidates to Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul who has poured millions of dollars into Freedom’s Watch.
These hardball campaign tactics are commonplace in every hard-fought election. But the DCCC’s slash-and-burn attacks on Adelson and his group are notable for their resemblance to long-standing GOP efforts to brand Democrats as the lapdogs of billionaire financier George Soros and MoveOn.org, the liberal anti-war group Soros helped fund to protest the policies of President Bush.
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In Mississippi, a DCCC radio ad asked why Davis was accepting support from “the world’s No. 1 casino czar and one of atheist China’s top American business partners.” The DCCC referred to a massive casino Adelson’s Sands Corp. owns in Macau, just outside Hong Kong, as “an investment in a country that steals our jobs, persecutes Christians, uses forced labor and forces women to have abortions.
“And what has Greg Davis said about all of this?” the ad asked. “Absolutely nothing.”
In Louisiana, DCCC print and radio ads said Republican candidate Woody Jenkins had engaged in “amazing hypocrisy” by accepting the support of Adelson and Freedom’s Watch.
In one print ad, the DCCC superimposed a photo of Jenkins onto images of a slot machine and a singer wearing gold lamé. In another, the DCCC put Jenkins in front of a Chinese flag and proclaimed: “Woody Jenkins talks about family values, but a casino billionaire heavily invested in a country notorious for forced abortions is bankrolling ads for him.”
Freedom’s Watch has emerged as an aggressive and well-funded advocate for House Republicans since its launch last year, when its founders suggested the group could spend as much as $200 million on congressional races this election cycle. The DCCC is trying to snuff out the nascent nonprofit before it becomes a permanent antidote to liberal groups such as MoveOn.
Freedom’s Watch spokesman Ed Patru said the anti-Adelson ads are part of “probably the most incredibly convoluted argument to ever come out of [the DCCC], which is remarkable, given the fact they’re still arguing they have a plan to lower gas prices.
“Nobody in America — or in China, for that matter — believes the preposterous charge that [Adelson] is responsible for religious persecution and forced abortions,” Patru said.
In addition to the print and radio ads, the DCCC has filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service, accusing Freedom’s Watch of colluding with House Republicans and questioning the organization’s tax-exempt status.
And the DCCC challenges every attack from its new GOP-aligned foes. For example, earlier this month in Mississippi, Democrat Travis Childers’ campaign protested an ad Freedom’s Watch aired against him, forcing the Fox affiliate in Memphis, Tenn., to hold the ad briefly fo review. A local paper reported the next day that the ad had been pulled completely, and the DCCC was up on the air days later with an ad attacking Freedom’s Watch for the reportedly “false” and “misleading” information.
The problem: It wasn’t true. Having held the ad briefly, the TV station then put it back into rotation that same night, and the local paper eventually printed a retraction. The DCCC subsequently tweaked its ad — but not before it succeeded in painting Freedom’s Watch as dishonest.
The DCCC used similar tactics with an earlier Freedom’s Watch ad in Louisiana.
Tellingly, staffers at the DCCC seem to be paying far more attention to Freedom’s Watch than they are to their direct counterparts at the cash-strapped National Republican Congressional Committee.
Patru said that all the attention from the DCCC “confirms for us that we make life uncomfortable for liberals, and it validates what we’ve been saying all along: This Congress is consumed with politics and incapable of delivering change.”
DCCC Communications Director Jennifer Crider countered that “Sheldon Adelson is committed to fund an organization that has said it will spend $200 million smearing Democrats.
“They’re doing it with misleading and downright false ads. We take that threat very seriously and will move aggressively to hold them accountable.”
Like the NRCC, Freedom’s Watch has endured plenty of internal turmoil since launching last year, and many Republicans question how much the group will spend on GOP campaigns this fall. Of course, that amount could hinge on the success — or failure — of Republican candidates’ races along the way and on the willingness of Adelson to fund a struggling party. Forbes lists him as the third-richest American, with a net worth that exceeds $20.5 billion.
With President Bush exiting the stage and a vastly more popular Republican set to run at the top of the party’s ticket in November, the DCCC seems determined to turn the little-known Adelson into a new Public Enemy No. 1. But the Democrats will also be aiming some of their fire at the GOP candidates themselves.
In the run-up to Tuesday’s special election in Mississippi — results were not available at press time — the DCCC put out a mailing saying that Davis had been open to moving a statue of Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest from Memphis to the suburb where Davis serves as mayor. The Davis campaign vehemently denied the claim, saying a previous newspaper account on the subject had been taken way out of context.