On The Situation Room, Wolf Blitzer said, "[C]orrect me if I'm wrong," but a controversial Playboy party ad against Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Harold Ford Jr., "has now gone away." Ken Mehlman, whom Blitzer was interviewing, concurred, saying, "my understanding is the same thing." In fact, The Tennessean reported on the same day that the ad "will continue airing ... as agreed to by the RNC."
On the October 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer said "[C]orrect me if I'm wrong," but a controversial Republican National Committee ad -- which reportedly began airing on October 2 and features a scantily clad actress posing as someone who "met" Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Harold Ford Jr. "at the Playboy party" -- "has now gone away." Blitzer made the claim while interviewing Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman. While Mehlman replied that "my understanding is the same thing," according to an October 25 Tennessean article, the ad "will continue airing on WRCB-Channel 3 [the NBC affiliate in Chattanooga] as agreed to by the RNC, Tom Tolar, president and manager of the station, said in a telephone interview ... because WRCB has declined to air the ad that the RNC wanted to run in place of" the "Playboy party" ad. Tolar said of the newer advertisement: "We ... decided we would not air it until we could get some further substaniation [sic] by the RNC."
Also during the CNN interview, Blitzer failed to challenge Mehlman's claim that the Republican Party "is working to focus on the issues. ... And the focus I think is going to be on taxes, it's going to be on defense, it is going to be on judges and issues like that in the Senate race." But conspicuously missing from Mehlman's list of "the issues" was the war in Iraq, which, according to recent public opinion polling, is the most important issue to Americans both nationally and in Tennessee.
An October 18-20 McClatchy/MSNBC Tennessee Poll of registered Tennessee voters found that 22 percent of respondents selected "Iraq" as the "most important [issue] in determining your vote for Senate this year," more than for any other issue. Similarly, in an October 19-20 Newsweek poll, 31 percent of respondents said that Iraq was the "most important" issue to them in "deciding [their] vote for Congress this year," more than selected any other issue. Similarly, an October 10-11 Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll of likely voters found that 45 percent of respondents said that "the situation in Iraq" was "extremely important" in their "vote for Congress this fall," more than cited any other issue.
In the Tennessee Senate race, Ford has accused his Republican opponent, former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker, of avoiding discussion on Iraq. For instance, on the 5 p.m. ET hour of the October 24 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Ford said: "He won't show up for any debates in the state. ... I said I would love to talk about Iraq with him, to talk about how Republican senators are coming around to our position, that what we're doing in Iraq is not working."
Moreover, contrary to Mehlman's assertion that Republicans are focusing on "the issues" in the Tennessee race, Blitzer could have pointed out recent ads run by the Corker campaign that have gone after Ford personally. As blogger Greg Sargent noted on the weblog Election Central, a recent Corker campaign ad contrasts the biographies of Ford and Corker while "what sounds like tom-tom drums [are] playing in the background every time the ad talks about Dem Harold Ford Jr." The ad states: "Harold went to college at the University of Pennsylvania. Bob chose the University of Tennessee. ... Harold Ford Jr.'s lived a life of politics. Bob Corker's lived a full Tennessee life." Additionally, as Media Matters for America noted, Corker's campaign has been attacking Ford's family, calling them the "Ford Family Machine."
From the October 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
BLITZER: All right, first of all, the news. I understand -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- the ad has now gone away. It's finally been pulled.
MEHLMAN: Yes, my understanding is the same thing, Wolf. And let me explain why I'm answering it the way I do -- "my understanding is." The way the law works, the campaign reform law is the following: I work very closely with Bob Corker -- talk to him most days. We work very closely on lots of different parts of different campaigns. But what the law says that is when you work closely with a candidate for office, you're then not permitted on behalf of that same candidate to run television ads beyond a certain limit.
BLITZER: Listen to what former United States Republican senator, William Cohen, who served as defense secretary during the Clinton administration, he was here on Monday. Listen to what he said.
COHEN [video clip]: I think the Republicans have to be careful also in terms of not engaging in conduct -- and I was watching the Tennessee race specifically. It reminded me of what happened in North Carolina with Harvey Gantt, a purely overt racist approach.
MEHLMAN: Wolf, I agree with Senator Cohen. As you remember, I made some news last year when I spoke at the NAACP and as chairman of the Republican Party said it was wrong Republicans did that in the past. I was condemned by some within my own party. I stand behind that statement. I would never countenance an ad that does that.
I think what our party is doing is working to focus on the issues. The ad is down now. And the focus I think is going to be on taxes, it's going to be on defense, it is going to be on judges, on issues like that in the Senate race.
BLITZER: Looking at it now, knowing everything you know, was it a racist ad?
MEHLMAN: Again, I stand behind what I said before, which is as someone who is extraordinarily sensitive to it, I don't believe that it was. At the same time, there are good people on both sides who believe otherwise. I respect where they're coming from. I hope they do the same with where I'm coming from.