Immigration Ads A Problem For Campaigns

Suzanne Gamboa, AP, August 29, 2006

Washington—Capturing the immigration debate in political ads this campaign season—without upsetting Hispanics—is proving tricky for the parties and candidates.

An ad criticizing Stephen Laffey, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Lincoln Chafee for the Republican nomination in Rhode Island, set off grumbling in the Latino community. The ad criticized Laffey, mayor of Cranston, for allowing city police to accept ID cards issued by the Mexican government as identification.

Chafee’s spokesman had no comment about the ad. Laffey’s campaign called it an insensitive attack on the mayor’s attempt to empathize with “people who struggle and who try to make a better life for themselves.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee said the ad, which it sponsored, raises legitimate questions.”This ad is about our national security, and it speaks to concerns raised by the FBI,”spokesman Dan Ronayne said Monday.

Polls have shown Laffey and Chafee running neck-and-neck in a race that has gained national attention.

The winner of the Republican primary will face Democratic former Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse in the November election.

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“Both parties are crossing the line,”said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, which is calling for an end to such ads.”The issue of what to do about immigration is fair game for this election, demonizing an entire community is not.”

On Tuesday, the Democratic National Committee’s Hispanic Caucus called on national Republicans to stop airing its ad in the Chafee-Laffey race, saying it implies falsely that”Mexican immigrants will carry out acts of terrorism against government buildings and airplanes.”

The Chafee-Laffey race is not the only one facing the challenge of using the immigration issue in political ads.

For example:

_In his first campaign ad, Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., boasted of his immigrant heritage, but said some immigrants today have sinister motives for entering and lists how he’s tried to beef up border security. The ad was intended to appeal to voters worried about losing their jobs to immigrants.

_Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., has an ad on his re-election campaign Web site praising his anti-terrorism work. The ad includes an image of him standing in the desert near two white SUVs, similar to those used by the Border Patrol. Critics say the scene looks like the U.S.-Mexican border.

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The Web ad so outraged Houston City Councilwoman Carol Alvarado, who is Mexican-American, that she fired off a letter to committee chairman Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. Alvarado, who says she’s very loyal to the party, said likening illegal immigrants to bazooka-toting terrorists undermined Democrats’positive relationship with Latinos.

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Rhode Island state Sen. Juan M. Pichardo, a Dominican-American, was equally critical of the NRSC ad attacking Laffey.”To me and the Latino community and the immigrant community, it is an ad that is mean-spirited, divisive and has no place in Rhode Island,”Pichardo said.

Focusing on positive aspects of the Latino culture—family, culture, future—is the best way to reach the community, even in negative ads, said Lorena Chambers, founder of Chambers Lopez&Gaitan, an advertising company.

For Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, Chambers created an award-winning ad that criticized President Bush’s education policies, but featured a Latina in cap and gown with her mother.

Frank Guerra, who helped produce an ad for Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign, said creating ads for Hispanics is complicated by the population’s diversity. Their views on immigration are just as varied.

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Providence—One of Rhode Island’s top Hispanic lawmakers has asked Sen. Lincoln Chafee to denounce a television ad run by a Republican group supporting his bid for reelection because he said it could engender fear and prejudice against Hispanics.

The ad running on local broadcast and cable television accuses Cranston Mayor Stephen P. Laffey of being weak on national security because he has allowed the city to accept foreign identification cards presented by Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants.

Laffey is running against Chafee in the Sept. 12 Republican primary. Polls have shown it to be a very close race.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which backs Chafee, began running an ad last week that criticizes Laffey for Cranston’s acceptance of matricula identification cards from Mexico. Laffey announced last year that the city would accept the identification cards Mexico and Guatemala issue to their citizens living abroad.

The NRSC ad shows images of Hispanic men being herded into van by a law-enforcement agent and says immigrants can use fake cards to get driver’s licenses, enter government buildings and board planes.

State Sen. Juan Pichardo, D-Providence, sent Chafee a letter dated Friday asking him to renounce the spot.

“The ad’s script and imagery are clearly meant to engender fear that, as a group, Hispanic immigrants present a threat to the security of Rhode Island and the nation,” wrote Pichardo, a naturalized citizen who emigrated from the Dominican Republic. “I am deeply concerned that as a result, the ad will unfairly create feelings of prejudice and suspicion toward the Hispanic community as a whole.”

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