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Attack ads target Wellstone
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
August 14, 2002

The first television attack ad in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race has prompted candidates on both sides to call for it to be taken off the air. A group called Citizens Opposed to Racism and Discrimination is running an ad calling DFL Sen. Paul Wellstone a liar and a millionaire. The Wellstone campaign says the ad is just the latest in a series of attack ads run by outside interest groups.

Paul Wellstone
U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone is the target of two new attack ads produced by outside interest groups.
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(MPR file photo)

The 60-second TV spot shows the two-term senator clinking wine glasses with a group of people at what could be a party or a fundraiser.

"Paul Wellstone has become a career politician, who's spent his career getting rich with million-dollar pension plans and stock deals," the announcer says.

The ad accuses Wellstone of supporting a Communist-style health plan, as the red flag of Communist China covers Wellstone's face. Finally, the word "lied" is shown on the screen three times.

"He also lied to us when he said he would run for only two terms. Would you vote for a millionaire who has lied to you? It's time for a change," says the ad.

"It's the most extremist ad I've seen in years," says Clay Steinman, who chairs the Communication Studies department at Macalester College in St. Paul.

"It's this conglomeration of kind of vicious attacks on Wellstone that's pretty surprising ... It's not surprising that most TV outlets won't run the ad," Steinman says.

The ad is running only on the all-news cable channel MSNBC. Steinman takes issue with a couple of the ad's claims. He says labeling Wellstone as a millionaire isn't supported by the senator's required financial disclosure report.

The latest report lists Wellstone's assets in the range of $326,000 to $940,000, and his campaign says Wellstone's worth is closer to around $500,000. The group running the ad disputes those numbers.

Steinman also objects to the characterization of Wellstone's support for universal health care.

"We're the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn't have single-payer health plan. ... Unless we want to talk about Canada and England and Japan and France, and all these other places as being Communist countries," says Steinman.

The ad is paid for by a St. Paul-based group called Citizens Opposed to Racism and Discrimination, or CORAD. The group's Web site also sells a hip hop CD that calls liberal Democrats racist. One of the group's founders, Keith Roberts, says he has no intention of pulling the ad, despite a request from Wellstone's opponent, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.

The CORAD spot isn't the only ad being run by a group that isn't connected to either of the campaigns. A group called the United Seniors Association, or USA, is running radio spots urging Wellstone to vote for tax cuts. The ad uses a John F. Kennedy sound bite from 40 years ago.

"It is increasingly clear that no matter what party is in long as our national security needs keep rising, an economy hampered by restrictive tax rates will never produce enough jobs or enough profits," the Kennedy sound bit concludes.

Steinman says the ad isn't particularly effective, but might solidify Coleman's support among voters who want permanent tax cuts now. The problem for Coleman, according to Steinman, is that those people wouldn't have voted for Wellstone anyway.

"The battle for this race is a battle for the center. So ads that come in on the extremes - it's not clear to me what effect they have, except they might even have a negative effect," Steinman says.

The campaigns and political parties have avoided any attack ads. The Minnesota Republican Party just started running a pro-Coleman television ad around the state. It touts Coleman's record on education, and quotes a newspaper endorsement of Coleman.

More from MPR
  • Campaign 2002: Adwatch section