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Anti-209 Ad Takes the Lowest Road

And so it has come to this: The political outfit which professes to promote tolerance and inclusion is running a race-baiting TV spot that is so slimy that it makes ordinary negative ads seem wholesome.

This commercial falls into the sump with such sludge as the infamous Willie Horton spot and--also now running--the Richard Allen Davis morph.

Leaving aside the rhetorical distortions, what makes the current Defeat 209 ad so unseemly and insulting is the white-robed klansman in front of the flaming cross. As if to imply that anybody who wants to end racial and gender preferences in government affirmative action is a closet klansman and soul mate of former KKK leader David Duke.

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Duke, the ad asserts, has “come to California to support Prop. 209.” The real reason Duke came to California, of course, was to collect $4,000 plus expenses from the Cal State Northridge student body. Its senate, led by anti-209 students, brought in Duke ostensibly to speak for the ballot measure in a debate. The 209 campaign bitterly complained. It smelled a plot to provide fodder for an anti-209 commercial.

Suspicion confirmed. The ad isn’t surprising, just disappointing in its odor.

The anti-209 campaign, says director Pat Ewing, wanted to reveal the initiative’s true nature and “cut to the chase.” But not along the high road, obviously; in the gutter with the mud.

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Well, this is the season for ugly, right around Halloween. Trailing campaigns get desperate and try demonizing.

Going negative is common. Turning ugly is exceptional, earning induction into the political Hall of Shame.

How do you distinguish garden variety negative from manure ugly? “It’s like what [the late Supreme Court Justice] Potter Stuart said about obscenity. You know it when you see it,” veteran consultant Ken Khachigian once observed.

One sure qualifier this fall is the Davis ad, seeking to link the infamous kidnap-killer of Polly Klaas with Democratic congressional candidates. The ads have been run by three Republicans--Rep. Andrea Seastrand of San Luis Obispo, Tim Lefever of Yolo County and Rep. Frank Riggs along the North Coast. Their Democratic opponents, by varying degrees, have opposed capital punishment.

The sleazy ads vary. Two mingle photos of the candidate with Davis. Another says: “When the murderer of Polly Klaas got the death penalty he deserved, two people were disappointed--Richard Allen Davis and [the Democratic candidate].”

Two years ago, Democrat Tom Umberg ran another tasteless, ludicrous Polly ad, implying that his GOP opponent, Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, shared responsibility for the child’s death.

Months later, Umberg’s campaign strategist, Richie Ross, candidly explained his philosophy during an election post mortem at UC Berkeley.

“I don’t have a particular philosophical view about negative campaigning,” he said. “If it’s going to help the candidate I’ve been hired to help elect, I’m going to do it. If I think it would backfire, I’m going to not do it. I’m going to run a positive campaign if I’m ahead. I’m going to run a very negative campaign if I think I’m very far behind. . . .

“Those of you who are more interested in the system can debate its values. I don’t have a particular interest in the system. I don’t wake up in the morning and feel as though my job is to fix the system. . . .

“Is there a line? Yes. . . . Do we go over the line? Yeah. But if you watch baseball, the only way you can get a triple is you hit it close to the foul line. That’s how you get extra bases. . . . You try not to cross the line, but you do. You’re trying to win, you’re not trying to be a reformer.”

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Or, as columnist and former Nixon aide William Safire writes in his “New Political Dictionary”: “The takers of low roads can sometimes make better time, as the balladeer in ‘Loch Lomond’ indicates--'O ye’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye. . . .’ ”

The 209 campaign intends to take the high road this weekend with its first TV ad, a feel-good spot featuring a mother of four daughters, who urges: “We need equal opportunity, not preferential treatment. Bring us together.”

Meanwhile, Bob Dole and the GOP continue to muddle along, using 209 as a partisan issue by slamming President Clinton for opposing it. This is backfiring. More Clinton supporters now are moving into the anti-209 camp. According to a new Field Poll, the measure’s lead has been cut to 5 points.

It’s even possible the anti-209 campaign--with an accidental push from the GOP--could have come from behind on the high road.


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