Ad Brings Stereotype Charge

Times Staff Writer

Controversy erupted this week in a tight U.S. Senate race in Oklahoma over a Republican television commercial that shows images suggestive of illegal immigrants being rounded up by law enforcement and a pair of dark-skinned hands counting money as a narrator talks about welfare.

The advertisement, attacking Democratic Senate nominee Rep. Brad Carson, is sponsored by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is backing former Rep. Tom Coburn.

“Brad Carson voted to make it easier for illegal immigrants to cross our borders and take our jobs,” the narrator says. “And Carson voted to allow immigrants to get on welfare.”


On Friday, Democrats charged that the ad fed into racial and ethnic stereotypes, by portraying Latinos as illegal immigrants and blacks as welfare recipients.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), a leader in the Congressional Black Caucus, said Republicans were “so desperate to win that they will use images of black people and brown people that are very clearly intended to appeal to the lowest instincts of people.”

Pointing to the imagery of hands, Democrats likened the ad to a famous 1990 spot for then-Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) that showed white hands crumpling up a letter as a narrator said “You needed that job

The Helms ad, which asserted that qualified white applicants were losing jobs due to racial hiring quotas, was incendiary but effective. Helms won a narrow victory over his African American challenger, Democrat Harvey Gantt.

Illegal immigration has also been hot-button ad material for many years. Such ads played a significant role in the 1994 campaign for California’s Proposition 187, which banned most government services for undocumented residents. It was later declared unconstitutional.

Republicans defended their new ad as factual and denied any racial or ethnic insensitivity.


“It’s just the national Democratic allies of Brad Carson trying to divert attention from his liberal record,” said Dan Allen, a spokesman for the GOP committee.

He said the ad, which began running midweek, would run its course on TV stations in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Lawton.

Coburn and Carson are in a fierce battle to replace retiring Republican Sen. Don Nickles. Democrats see the contest as one of their best chances to pick up a seat in the Senate.

Currently, Republicans control the chamber, 51-48. One independent senator supports the Democrats.

A net gain of two seats nationwide would give the Democrats control of the Senate.