Democratic candidates offer mixed reactions to DCCC ad

Democrats in key election races differ over the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) decision to pull from its website a controversial ad that showed flag-draped caskets.

Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.) challenger Joe Donnelly defended the ad Friday, before it was removed, saying it was appropriate and important, and he criticized Republicans for what he perceived as hypocrisy.

“Joe’s not in favor of cutting and running, but he feels it is appropriate to see what sacrifices we have made,” spokeswoman Katie Nee said. “We saw [Republicans] politicize 9/11 pretty frequently in 2004.”

Several other Democratic candidates courting conservative voters in red districts have opted not to defend the ad but to attack their opponents for playing politics.

Pennsylvania Democrat Patrick Murphy, who running against Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), responded to a call from his opponent to demand that the ad be removed by saying: “I don’t recall Congressman Fitzpatrick raising his voice in outrage when President Bush used the image of a flag-draped stretcher coming out of the ruins of 9/11,” he said in a statement, referring to a Bush campaign ad from 2004. “This is just another typical Washington political attack.”

Murphy stopped short of criticizing the DCCC ad, saying, “It isn’t appropriate for either party to exploit 9/11 or the Iraq war, especially not with hollow, hypocritical partisan attacks.”

Former Rep. Ken Lucas (D), who is challenging Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.), said, “I support without qualification our troops in the field in Iraq. … I don’t think Mr. Davis’s press conference and name-calling were particularly useful.”

Davis, along with Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La) introduced a bill Friday that bars the unauthorized use of the image or name of a deceased American soldier.

Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) also called for his opponent, Democrat Joe Sestak, to criticize the ad, but Sestak’s campaign blasted Weldon instead.

“While he may not have chosen to use several of the reported images in the ad, Sestak also would not have done many of the things that Weldon has done in this campaign: a shameful ‘Swift boat’ operation and personal attacks on Admiral Sestak and his 31 years of military service to his country,” spokesman Ryan Rudominer said.

Spokesmen for Democrats Mike Arcuri (N.Y.), Mary Jo Kilroy (Ohio) and Kristin Gillibrand (Conn.) said their candidates had not seen the ad.

Joe Courtney, the Democrat challenging Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), did not support the commercial. “Joe felt the ad was distasteful, and he is glad that it was taken down,” spokesman Brian Farber said.

Bruce Braley, an Iowa Democratic candidate who is running against Republican Mike Whalen, publicly denounced the ad Friday, according to the Quad-City Times.

Reps. Chet Edwards (D-Texas), John Spratt (D-S.C.) and John Barrow (D-Ga.) also asked that the ad be pulled and indicated they thought the use of the coffins was disrespectful.

All three members are Republican targets in November.

On Friday, Democrats pulled the ad, which generated record traffic for the DCCC, adding 250,000 e-mail addresses to campaign operation’s mailing list.

“It was more successful than we’d ever dreamed,” said Bill Burton, a spokesman for the DCCC.

He added that traffic went up considerably after National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) held a press conference denouncing the ad, which in addition to the flag-draped caskets contained a doctored mug shot of former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and a fallen soldier’s helmet perched on the end of a rifle.

DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) “was thinking of sending Reynolds a cheesecake to thank him,” Burton said.

Reynolds issued a statement yesterday praising Democrats for removing the commercial but demanding that Democratic leaders apologize for the controversial images.

“On Friday morning, the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee altered a Web ad depicting the flag-draped caskets of America’s honored dead by removing the ‘contribute now’ button underneath it and then pulled the ad altogether by the end of the day,” he said. “National Democrats may have admitted their error and momentarily curbed their enthusiasm for politicizing the war in Iraq, but a line was crossed here that cannot be so easily redrawn.”

Burton retorted, “Let me know when Tom Reynolds asks the president to apologize for sending our troops off to war without the body armor they needed or the armor for their Humvees they required. If he were serious about serious issues, he wouldn’t be in so much trouble back home in western New York.”