Posted on October 27, 2022

With Ads, Imagery and Words, Republicans Inject Race Into Campaigns

Jonathan Weisman, New York Times, October 25, 2022

As Republicans seize on crime as one of their leading issues in the final weeks of the midterm elections, they have deployed a series of attack lines, terms and imagery that have injected race into contests across the country.

In states as disparate as Wisconsin and New Mexico, ads have labeled a Black candidate as “different” and “dangerous” and darkened a white man’s hands as they portrayed him as a criminal.

Nowhere have these tactics risen to overtake the debate in a major campaign, but a survey of competitive contests, particularly those involving Black candidates, shows they are so widespread as to have become an important weapon in the 2022 Republican arsenal.

In Wisconsin, where Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is Black, is the Democratic nominee for Senate, a National Republican Senatorial Committee ad targeting him ends by juxtaposing his face with those of three Democratic House members, all of them women of color, and the words “different” and “dangerous.”

In a mailer sent to several state House districts in New Mexico, the state Republican Party darkened the hands of a barber shown giving a white child a haircut, next to the question, “Do you want a sex offender cutting your child’s hair?”

And in North Carolina, an ad against Cheri Beasley, the Democratic candidate for Senate, who is Black, features the anguished brother of a white state trooper killed a quarter-century ago by a Black man whom Ms. Beasley, then a public defender, represented in court. The brother incredulously says that Ms. Beasley, pleading for the killer’s life, said “he was actually a good person.”

Appeals to white fears and resentments are an old strategy in American elections, etched into the country’s political consciousness, with ads like George Bush’s ad using the Black convict Willie Horton against Michael Dukakis in 1988, and Jesse Helms’s 1990 commercial showing a white man’s hands to denounce his Black opponent’s support for “quotas.”

If the intervening decades saw such tactics become harder to defend, the rise of Donald J. Trump shattered taboos, as he spoke of “rapist” immigrants and “shithole countries” in Africa and the Caribbean. But while Republicans quietly stood by advertising that Democrats called racist in 2018, this year, they have responded with defiance, saying they see nothing untoward in their imagery and nothing to apologize for.

“This is stupid, but not surprising,” said Chris Hartline, a spokesman for the Republican Senatorial Committee, whose ads in North Carolina and Wisconsin have prompted accusations of racism. “We’re using their own words and their own records. If they don’t like it, they should invent a time machine, go back in time and not embrace dumb-ass ideas that voters are rejecting.”


This month, a Republican senator, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, said Democrats favored reparations “for the people that do the crime,” suggesting the movement to compensate the descendants of slavery was about paying criminals. And Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, made explicit reference to “replacement theory,” the racist notion that nonwhite, undocumented immigrants are “replacing” white Americans, saying, “Joe Biden’s five million illegal aliens are on the verge of replacing you.”

Such language, as well as ads portraying chaos by depicting Black rioters and Hispanic immigrants illegally racing across the border, have prompted Democrats and their allies to accuse Republicans of resorting to racist fear tactics.


The conservative group Club for Growth Action, backed by the billionaires Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, Diane Hendricks and Jeff Yass, pointed with pride to the crime ads it has run against Ms. Beasley. “Democrats across the country are getting called out for their soft-on-crime policies,” said the group’s president, former Representative David McIntosh. “Now that their poor decisions have caught up with them, they’re relying on the liberal media to call criticisms of their politically inconvenient record racist, and it won’t work.”


Some liberal groups do seem intent on discerning racism in any message on crime. After Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, who is white, ran an ad opening with a clip of Representative Cori Bush of Missouri, who is Black, calling for defunding the police, Iowa Democrats called it racist because Ms. Reynolds’s Democratic challenger, Deidre DeJear, is also Black, and, as she has said, bears a resemblance to Ms. Bush.


But the policy differences between the two parties are real. Democrats have pushed for cashless bail, saying the current system that requires money to free a defendant before trial is unfair to poor people. Republicans say cash bail is meant to get criminals off the streets. Democrats have expressed solidarity with racial justice protesters and helped bail out some who were arrested after demonstrations over the murder of George Floyd turned destructive. Republicans have said those actions condoned and encouraged lawlessness.

Skin color is beside the point, said Jonathan Felts, a spokesman for Mr. Budd’s campaign in North Carolina, as he defended the blitz of crime advertising against Ms. Beasley. One ad toggles between images of white children — victims of brutal crimes — and the face of Ms. Beasley, her expression haughty or bemused.

“The images used in the ad match up to the victims of the criminals she went easy on,” Mr. Felts said. “Are you suggesting the ad makers should make up fake victims, or are you suggesting she shouldn’t be held accountable for her judicial and legal record?”