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Black ‘lynch’ ads illustrate racial overtones and anger in US advertising campaigns


NEW YORK (Reuters) – Much of the political ads in this year’s US election have come off with an unusually harsh and personal punch – some with racial overtones.

In Arkansas, a radio ad this week suggests white Democrats may start lynching black men. In New York, supporters of a congressman drew attention to his black rival’s history as a rapper. In California, Ohio and Virginia, candidates and their supporters refer to their opponents as terrorists. In Pennsylvania, a Republican senator threatened to “stamp the face” of his Democratic rival with golf spikes.

And in Arizona, an MP’s six siblings urged voters not to re-elect their Republican brother.

While angry ads have long been a feature of US policy, many ads this year made little effort to hide their candidates’ anger.

The high spending on an electoral cycle without presidential elections and the speed with which ads spread online add to the effect. Political spending on television spots has risen 19 percent to $ 2.9 billion since 2014, the last midterm election cycle of the U.S. Congress – a level closer to spending on a presidential election, according to MAGNA, a branch of advertising agency IPG Mediabrands.

“I believe that as the amount of money spent on campaigns increases, so does the volume of negative ads,” said Nathan Gonzales of Inside Elections, a non-partisan campaign analysis group.

A radio advertisement aired this week in Arkansas in support of Republican US Representative French Hill featured women with exaggerated and stereotypical African American accents saying black voters should support Hill and the Republicans because Democrats will lynch black men when ” a white girl screams rape ”.

Hill’s campaign failed to run the ad and condemned it as “outrageous”. Hill and his Democratic opponent Clarke Tucker are both white.


The ad cites allegations that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sexually abused a 15-year-old girl when he was a 17-year-old high school student. Kavanaugh denied the allegation, which dominated the final days of his Senate confirmation, leading Republicans to say the Democrats had abandoned the presumption of innocence idea.

In the ad, a woman says, “White Democrats are going to lynch blacks again.”

The US Capitol Building is seen from Pennsylvania Avenue as the sun sets in Washington on October 2, 2007. REUTERS / Jason Reed

“We have to protect our men and boys,” says the woman. “We cannot afford white Democrats to take us back to the bad old days of racial judgment, life sentences and lynching when a white girl screams rape.”

Bruce Bartlett, a senior policy advisor in the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush, called it “the most racist Republican ad I have ever come across.”

Vernon Robinson of Black Americans for the President’s Agenda, a political action committee, produced the ads. He defended them in a phone interview on Friday and said they would go through the election.

“I couldn’t believe that the insane fringe of the Democratic Party was making the defendants guilty,” Robinson told Reuters, referring to the Kavanaugh hearings, which had no racist aspect. “This is a serious threat to black men and the women who love them.”

Malik Russell, a spokesman for the NAACP civil rights group, called the ad “one of the worst examples of racial ignorance and historical embezzlement”. He accused Trump of setting the tone.

“Racism, the hateful and disrespectful rhetoric directed against White House immigrants, women and colored communities, has served as a powerful trailblazer for those who support white supremacy across the country,” Russell said.

The change of tone comes as the Democrats battle for majorities in the US House of Representatives and Senate, which would give them more power to defy the Republican president’s agenda.

Opinion polls generally show that Democrats stand a good chance of getting the 23 House seats they need to get a majority.

That explains, in part, the preponderance of negative TV ads in Senate races – half of the ads running September 4 through October 1 were negative, according to an analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political ads. More than the 40.8 percent of the House’s ads and 43.2 percent of the governors’ ads were negative, according to the study.


It found that more than a third of Republican television ads for Senate and General Elections were negative, which it defined as ads that focused solely on a candidate’s rival.

That is well above the 18.3 percent of the Democratic Senate ads and 14.1 percent of the Democratic House ads that were negative. It also represented a shift from 2014, when the Democrats ‘ads were far more negative than the Republicans’.

Other 2018 election campaigns were criticized for threats of violence or perceived xenophobia.

Scott Wagner, a Republican who challenges Democratic incumbent Tom Wolf for governor of Pennsylvania, threatens his rival with “Golf Spikes” advertising. Surveys show that Wolf has a big head start.

“Governor Wolf, let me tell you what you should better put in the face by November 6th, because I’m going to stomp you in the face with golf spikes,” Wagner said in the video.

Wagner later took the ad down under criticism from national Republican leaders, saying he had “chosen a bad metaphor”.

New York Republican John Faso has repeatedly attacked his Democratic challenger, a black former Rhodes scholar and Harvard trained attorney, highlighting the offensive language Antonio Delgado used as a young aspiring rapper.

Delgado responded by saying his previous texts had been taken out of context to turn him into “different” from voters in one of the whitest districts in the state.

California Republican Duncan Hunter accused his challenger Ammar Campa-Najjar in a commercial of “hiding his family’s links to terrorism”. The ad focuses on his origins – his mother is Mexican American and his father is Palestinian. She calls him a “Palestinian, Mexican, Millennial Democrat,” funded by “the Muslim Brotherhood,” and a “security risk.”

Campa-Najjar worked in President Barack Obama’s White House and later in the Department of Labor – jobs that require a security clearance. Although his Palestinian grandfather Muhammad Yusuf al-Najjar was accused by Israel of being involved in the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, Campa-Najjar was born 16 years after the death of Yusuf al-Najjar.

Democratic Congressional candidates in Ohio and California were similarly recognized for their respective work in a law firm that once handled litigation with Libya and for serving as substitute English teachers in a Muslim high school.

Full Reuters election coverage: here

Reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by Jason Szep, Frances Kerry, and Bill Trott


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