Dem strategist says new Romney ad plays race card, echoes Rev. Wright

Democratic strategist Tad Devine, an adviser to the Al Gore and John Kerry presidential campaigns, accused Mitt Romney’s campaign of invoking the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright in a recent ad.

Devine said Wednesday that he was “shocked” to see what he believed was imagery of an African-American church in an ad released Tuesday by Romney’s campaign team and airing in New Hampshire. The ad, Romney’s first of the campaign, is “clearly an attempt to bring back Rev. Wright and race,” Devine tweeted.

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In the ad, a series of images including those of a foreclosed home and empty businesses flash by as text criticizes President Obama’s economic record. But at two points, the imagery cuts to well-dressed African-American women walking down a large hallway, and pans over a predominantly black audience.

“It appears to be a congregation of African-American people,” Devine told The Hill. “In the first scene there are no white people at all, in the second ... it is all African Americans except possibly one person, [whose race] you can’t really tell.”

Devine said he believes these images were selected intentionally to invoke race and the controversy involving Wright, the president’s former pastor. 


“As someone who does this for a living, there is absolutely no way that’s not intentional,” Devine said. “There is no other rational explanation for that scene other than to suggest a racial reference, and most likely invoke Jeremiah Wright.”

The Romney campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. While there is no explicit link to an African-American church congregation or Wright, Devine said there is no way the campaign couldn’t have recognized the imagery it was selecting, and the connotations it carried.

He said Romney might have selected the racial imagery to help with voters in South Carolina, where the former Massachusetts governor trailed Newt Gingrich 31 percent to 16 percent in a recent The Polling Company poll.

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“I would speculate that Gov. Romney and his campaign are concerned that they’re losing South Carolina so badly right now they’re using every tool in the toolbox — including the most pernicious tool in American politics, and that’s race and racial imagery,” Devine said.

In the 2008 presidential election, Wright, who was Obama’s pastor at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, was denounced for inflammatory statements, including contending that the Sept. 11 attacks were proof that “America’s chickens [were] coming home to roost.”

Obama responded to the Wright controversy, and discussed the political culture of black churches, in a Philadelphia speech titled “A More Perfect Union.” Wright, who has since retired as senior pastor of the church, later accused “them Jews” in the Obama administration of keeping him away from the president.

Devine went on to compare the Romney ad to a controversial ad aired by the George W. Bush campaign in 2000. In that spot, about prescription drug benefits, images of then-Vice President Gore were contrasted with text that read, “Bureaucrats decide.” But as the word “bureaucrats” disappeared from the screen, the text lingered to just flash “RATS,” in a move that some suggested was an attempt at subliminal messaging.


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Romney’s ad has already been criticized for quoting President Obama out of context later in the script. Obama is quoted as saying, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose,” implying that the president is reticent to speak about his economic record. But, in fact, the clip was edited to remove the context — namely, that Obama was quoting a member of Sen. John McCain’s staff during the last presidential election, not himself expressing concern about an economic discussion.

Romney’s campaign has since defended the decision to use the clip. The campaign first argued that the out-of-context quote provided greater exposure for a relatively small ad buy. 

On Wednesday, Romney said the out-of-context quote was fair game because it turned Obama's 2008 arguments against his 2012 reelection campaign.

"There's no question, the president's campaign and the DNC, we obviously got under their skin because the last thing they want to be doing is talking about the economy and the president’s failure to get this economy turned around," Romney said.

But Devine said the misquote, coupled with the racial imagery, is symptomatic of an operation that “plays by its own rules.”

“While the misquote is obvious and deliberate, and cynically being spun by them as a smart move … what is far worse, in my view, is this despicable use of a racial tactic, particularly in view of the fact that Romney’s main vulnerability is South Carolina,” Devine said.


— This post was updated at 5:00 p.m.