Anti-Harold Ford Jr. "Ad Seen as Playing to Racial Fears"

The Times fronts the controversy over a supposedly racist campaign ad mocking Rep. Harold Ford Jr. for attending a party for Playboy magazine.

The Times jumps into the liberal-inspired brouhaha over the RNC's supposedly racist TV ad against Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr., who is running in Tennessee against Republican Bob Corker.

Robin Toner gets Thursday's front page with "In Tight Race, Ad on Black Candidate Stirs Furor." The online headline is even blunter: "Ad Seen as Playing to Racial Fears."

"The Tennessee Senate race, one of the most competitive and potentially decisive battles of the midterm election, became even more unpredictable this week after a furor over a Republican television commercial that stood out even in a year of negative advertising.

"The commercial, financed by the Republican National Committee, was aimed at Representative Harold E. Ford Jr., the black Democrat from Memphis whose campaign for the Senate this year has kept the Republicans on the defensive in a state where they never expected to have trouble holding the seat."

"The controversy erupted over one of the people featured: an attractive white woman, bare-shouldered, who declares that she met Mr. Ford at a 'Playboy party,' and closes the commercial by looking into the camera and saying, with a wink, 'Harold, call me.'

"A spokeswoman for Mr. Ford, who is single, said he was one of 3,000 people who attended a Playboy party at the Super Bowl last year in Jacksonville, Fla.

"Critics asserted that the advertisement was a clear effort to play to racial stereotypes and fears, essentially, playing the race card in an election where Mr. Ford is trying to break a century of history and become the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction.

"Hilary Shelton, director of the N.A.A.C.P.'s Washington bureau, said the spot took aim at the sensitivities many Americans still have about interracial dating.

"John Geer, a professor at Vanderbilt University and a specialist in political advertising, said that it 'is playing to a lot of fears' and 'frankly makes the Willie Horton ad look like child's play.'"

Since when does the N.A.A.C.P. have moral authority when it comes to criticizing "offensive" campaign ads? Remember the notorious ad from the NAACP Voter Fund from 2000, comparing then-Gov. Bush's refusal to endorse hate-crime legislation in Texas to the brutal 1998 murder of James Byrd, who was chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged to his death.

On October 24, 2000, theFox News Channel ran a clip (available here in RealPlayer format) featuring the NAACP ad.

And you can watch the RNC's ad attacking Harold Ford Jr. here (the Times helpfully terms it a "controversial attack ad"). Decide for yourself which ad is more objectionable.

Toner ignores the N.A.A.C.P.'s ad history, and continues:

"Mr. Corker, a former mayor of Chattanooga, quickly tried to distance his campaign from the advertisement. The Corker campaign had been claiming momentum in recent days, citing a flurry of recent polls indicating the Republican had regained a slight lead after steadying its message and its campaign organization.

"A spokesman for the Corker campaign, Todd Womack, said the campaign was pleased that the spot had been taken off the air. 'It was tacky, over the top,' Mr. Womack said. 'Tennesseans deserve better.'"

Strange, that the usually hypersensitive Times can't spot the religious hypocrisy angle when it comes from a Democrat. National Review editor Rich Lowry touched on it yesterday at National Review Online: "'s my sense that that controversial RNC ad scored a direct hit in Tennessee. It forced Ford to say 'I like football and I like women.' There's nothing the least bit wrong with that. But it runs counter to the pious image he was cultivating with statements like, 'I love Jesus, I can't help it' (from Newsweek)."

Toner paints the Republicans in a defensive crouch: "The furor puts [RNC Chairman Ken] Mehlman in a difficult position. He has spent considerable time as the national chairman preaching the inclusiveness of the Republican Party and its openness to black candidates and black voters. He said in an interview Wednesday night that he did not believe that this would damage his Republican outreach efforts."

Toner is halfway to installing Ford in the Senate, if not Mount Rushmore:

"If he wins, the campaign Mr. Ford has been running here will be considered a roadmap for Democrats in conservative and rural areas. [Tennessee Democratic Rep. Lincoln] Davis invariably introduced him this week as a man who would never 'take away your Bible or your gun,' but would raise the minimum wage so people could afford them.

"With just 13 days to go, Mr. Ford is generating an intense response on the campaign trail as elderly white women reach for his hand and tell him they are praying for him, and he is swamped by autograph hunters and picture takers.

"At one point, Mr. Davis's eyes welled up as Mr. Ford worked his way through a crowd - largely friendly, although not entirely so - at a heavily Republican barbecue. 'You're watching history,' Mr. Davis said.

"Mr. Ford said later that he was not thinking history. 'I'm trying to win a race,' he said, before he jumped into his bus, whose destination sign read, 'success express.'"