Even those too young to remember it know that the 1988 attack ads featuring furloughed murderer Willie Horton are the pinnacle of racist dog-whistle political campaigning, but a new commercial for Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) shows that Republicans are better than ever at reaching out to the same voters. Terry is locked in a tight battle with state Sen. Brad Ashford (D-Neb.), and has been haunted by comments he made when asked if he would keep his own paycheck during the 2013 government shutdown:
“Dang straight,” Terry told the Omaha World Herald for an Oct. 4, 2013, story. “I’ve got a nice house and a kid in college, and I’ll tell you we cannot handle it. Giving our paycheck away when you still worked and earned it? That’s just not going to fly.”
Enter Nikko Jenkins, the Designated Black Bogeyman for this effort. Jenkins was released from prison under Nebraska's "good time" law, and promptly murdered four people. At a press conference earlier this month, Terry rolled out the attack, but when he was asked if there was an ad in the works, he gave a curiously smirky response:
"No such commercial has been produced."
Well, now it has. I'll get to the details of the ad (like how the "good time" law was signed by a Republican governor) later, but the real point of the ad is to get the face-tattooed Jenkins' picture next to Ashford's. There's also one other important aspect to this ad:
It would be tempting to chalk this up to local yokel politics in the sticks, except this ad wasn't produced by local yokels, it was produced by the National Republican Congressional Committee. When the chips are down, the same party that keeps insisting it's trying to reach out to new voters reverts right back to reaching out to the same old ones.
As for the substance of the ad, it's true that Jenkins was released after serving only half of his sentence, but it was Republican Governor Dave Heineman's Department of Corrections that failed to take away Jenkins' good time credit when he committed a variety of infractions, including aggravated assault on a corrections officer. As for the law itself, Ashford didn't even vote on it:
Nebraska has had good time on the books since at least 1969, well before Ashford was a member of the Legislature. State Sen. Ernie Chambers was the lone sponsor of a bill in 1992 that made cutting sentences in half mandatory for prisoners who follow prison rules. Ashford didn’t even vote on the issue. Ashford co-sponsored a 2011 bill to add three days of good time each month. That bill passed unopposed and was signed by Gov. Heineman.
The facts hardly matter, though. The message of this ad is as clear as the Horton ad's: be afraid, white people. Be very afraid.