With only two weeks until Election Day, the elderly conservative icon trailed his younger, black challenger by eight points in the 1990 North Carolina Senate race.
Helms’s campaign team brainstormed and then produced a racially divisive TV ad that helped propel Helms to victory.
The ad, which political analysts call the most race-baiting campaign spot of the modern era, featured the hands of a white man crumpling a job application.
A narrator intoned: “You needed that job. And you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair? Harvey Gantt says it is.”
That wasn’t unusual for Jesse Helms. As Lindsay points out, racism wasn’t just a personal madness for him (Pam’s House Blend has more about that here). Hate was also a very effective political strategy
In many ways, Jesse Helms was the father of modern racially charged political campaign ads. His fascination with race as a campaign weapon goes back at least to his work as an "unofficial researcher" for a 1950 senate campaign. Helms’ side released a doctored photo of the rival candidate’s wife dancing with a black man. At least one Helms biographer claims that Helms personally faked the picture, a charge Helms denied…
David Broder of the Washington Post summed up Helms’ legacy in an 2001 op/ed entitled, Jesse Helms, White Racist, "What is unique about Helms — and from my viewpoint, unforgivable — is his willingness to pick at the scab of the great wound of American history, the legacy of slavery and segregation, and to inflame racial resentment against African Americans."
That says most of it. Here’s the rest:
Heritage Foundation president Ed Fuelner called Helms a “dedicated, unflinching and articulate advocate of conservative policy and principle"–which tells you just about everything you need to know about Helms and the conservative movement.
Happily, the current Republian candidate for president says he’s rejected the divisive politics of the "conservative movement." He promises to move away from the politics of division and towards civility, respect and change:
Shortly after the primary season ended, McCain, in a speech to newspaper editors in Florida, said racial appeals would have no place in his campaign.
“I will do everything I can to keep anything that may be that kind of ugliness out of this political campaign,” he said.
But some of Obama’s supporters aren’t convinced, given the role two of Helms’s former advisers are playing in McCain’s campaign.
Republican media consultant Alex Castellanos, who produced the “white hands” spot for Helms, is part of McCain’s advertising council advising the candidate on media strategy, the Washington Post reported earlier this year.
Charlie Black, a key member of McCain’s inner circle of advisers, was an important Helms adviser for decades who helped craft general strategy during the 1990 campaign, according to contemporary media accounts. During that campaign, both he and Castellanos were vice presidents of National Media, a GOP consulting firm.
Well, I’m sure they’re outliers, and the rest of Senator McCain’s choices represent a break from the past.
Like, for instance, there’s Steve Schmidt, who was given control of the Senator’s campaign last week:
In the middle of the interview, [Mike] Allen [of the Politico] and Hewitt began discussing Bush/Cheney ’04 media strategist Steve Schmidt, a former top aide to Dick Cheney for communications strategy (i.e., media management). Allen and Hewitt both heaped great praise on Schmidt as a brilliant media strategist, and Allen claimed that the current GOP campaign operatives "are schooled in the Bush-Cheney school . . . all of them learned under Schmidt’s rules." Allen is very excited about the fact that a whole new generation of GOP media strategists are becoming so well-practiced in "the Bush-Cheney school" of media manipulation: "the great thing of it is he’s populated his ideas into these young people who are out there today, Matt David [of the McCain campaign], Kevin Madden [communications Director for Mitt Romney and formerly for Tom DeLay], all these young people are out there. They sort of have the Schmidt credo." [ed note: on Madden, it definitely shows]
Schmidt brings his spin on the New Politics to the McCain campaign by way of the ’04 Bush/Cheney operation (where he worked with Alex Castellanos and a guy named Scott Howell — we’ll get back to him — along with a good-sized chunk of the staff and advisors of the current McCain campaign) and the ’06 Schwarzenegger campaign (featuring Bush/Cheney refugees, many of whom moved on to the McCain campaign, and of course, Alex Castellanos)
The Harold ad was produced by Terry Nelson, now a consultant to the McCain campaign, who was working for the RNC at the time alongside Bush Campaign ’04 veteran — and last week’s newly-arrived McCain message guy — Mike DuHaime (who, with Nelson, will also be working at the RNC this cycle).
At the time, Nelson piously refused to take down the ad when Ford’s opponent asked him to, saying that he had no control over the independent group he paid to produce it (which, as it turned out, he was working for).
Mr. Howell is the rare usual suspect who doesn’t work for Senator McCain’s campaign, having been snatched up by the Giuliani campaign run by RNC refugee, um, Mike DuHaime. He’s with Norm Coleman now.
McCain did, however, manage to snag Larry McCarthy of Willie Horton fame (McCarthy also did the Kerry windsurfing ad together with Terry Nelson associate Chris LaCivita, the guy who produced the Swift Boat ad). An interesting chart of the highlights of Republican "independent" political ads in the past few decades is here.
The plausibly deniable RNC effort which the McCain campaign has no control over will be represented in this year’s contest by a former partner of Castellanos’ (and of Castellanos’ and Larry McCarthy’s on the Romney campaign) named Brad Todd. Despite the fact that Mssrs Nelson and DuHaime will be working for both the McCain campaign and the RNC, Mr. Todd’s efforts will be completely uncoordinated.
They were forced into it, of course:
“Following Barack Obama’s decision to become the only major party presidential candidate in history to not adhere to campaign spending caps, the Republican National Committee has begun an independent expenditure campaign in accordance with FEC regulations,” RNC I.E. consultant Brad Todd said in a statement. Todd’s firm, On Message Inc., produced the ad, which will run this weekend through July 15.
Personally, I suspect they didn’t hire this inbred murderer’s row because they were planning to run a clean campaign. They’re all very good at what they do, and they’ve had lots of practice.
Rest in peace, Senator Helms.