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Tennessee Turmoil | The Nation

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Tennessee Turmoil

In one week, Republicans ran not one, not two, but three racist to borderline racist television and radio ads about Harold Ford Jr. in Tennessee, the Democrat who's trying to become the first black Senator elected from the South since Reconstruction.

One ad run by the Republican National Committee, (RNC) shows a scantily clad white woman who says "I met Harold at the Playboy party," before whispering, "Harold, call me," and winking.

Hillary Shelton, Washington director of the NAACP, accused the ad of playing "to pre-existing prejudices about African American men and white women." William Cohen, the former Republican Senator from Tennnessee, called it "a very serious appeal to a racist sentiment."

Another ad, by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, asks "what kind of man parties with Playboy playmates in lingerie and then films political ads from a church pew?" A valid question, only the ad is done in the style of a blaxploitation film and set to funk music. Would Republicans run the same ad against a white candidate? I think not.

A third radio ad, commissioned by a group called Tennesseans for Truth (sound familiar?), explicitly plays the race card by citing Ford's membership in the Congressional Black Caucus, "an all-black group of congressmen who represent the interests of black people above all others."

Amidst increasing pressure from members of both parties, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman had the first ad mentioned pulled from the airwaves yesterday, after he initially claimed he didn't have the power to remove it. In its place the RNC debuted a new ad, falsely claiming that Ford "voted to recognize gay marriage" and "wants to give the abortion pill to our schoolchildren." At least two stations, including WRCB in Chattanooga (Corker's home town), have refused to run the new ad. And Ford recently went up with this response.

Mehlman may have apologized to the NAACP last year for the Republican Party's legacy of "trying to benefit politically from racial polarization." But that's exactly what the GOP is doing in Tennessee.

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