This is nothing new. As long as there have been politicians, they've tried to link their opponents, in a game of guilt by association, to identifiable and polarizing political figures. In recent years, Republicans have used prominent liberals, such as Senators Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, to attack democrats. In 1996 Democrats successfully tied Republican candidates to the unpopular and polarizing Newt Gingrich in order to win back House seats. More recently, President Bush has played the role of unpopular Republican in Democratic campaign ads.
As for Obama, the Republican candidates, the Republican Party and the group Freedoms Watch have featured him in attack ads for the Mississippi and Louisiana special elections. The attacks in Mississippi have been so effective that the Democrat in the race, Travis Childers, has publicly backed away from Obama.
Republican Cheryl Baswell Guthrie, of Alabama's 7th Congressional District, has also used Obama as the target of her ads, saying he does not speak for small town Alabamans. Even ads for the Wisconsin Court of Appeals have used Obama as a political boogeyman.
Thus far, the most buzz has been generated by an ad from the North Carolina Republican Party. The ad features footage of Reverend Jeremiah Wright and calls Obama too extreme for North Carolina. The ad is directly tied to the two Democratic gubernatorial candidates. John McCain's calls for the ad to be pulled may have, in fact, brought even more attention to the ad in subsequent news stories.
What this trend shows is that the "movement" atmosphere that once surrounded Obama and made him appear untouchable has now seemingly disappeared, at least in some parts of the country. Conservative candidates, the Republican party and right-wing interest groups are not going to hesitate to use Obama's likeness as a way to denounce and triangulate Democratic opponents. This may be something Democratic super delegates consider when deciding which candidate to support.
Of course, the bad news for John McCain and the Republicans is that Democrats will still have Bush and Cheney to counter with in ads this Fall.
See all of the ads discussed above at The Spot.
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Evan Tracey is the founder and chief operating officer of Campaign Media Analysis Group, a TNS Media Intelligence company. See his complete bio.