It’s heartbreaking when the politically motivated intentionally stir up racial tensions and fears to advance a candidate. A number of radio ads supporting Democratic incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards do just that. A New Orleans-based political action committee group, Black Organization for Leadership Development, or BOLD, produced the ads. They feature New Orleans City Councilman Jay Banks, a Democrat.
“What is the difference between David Duke, Eddie Rispone and Donald Trump? They do not care about you or anyone who looks like you,” Banks says in one ad.
There’s not much subtlety with the words “looks like you.” Banks could not be more direct, clear or nasty. He’s accusing Edwards’ Republican challenger, businessman Eddie Rispone, of not caring about people of color. What an ugly thing to say. How could Banks possibly assume to know what’s in Rispone’s heart?
The ads featuring Banks are running on radio stations mostly targeting listeners of urban music. The ads also encourage listeners to “vote against hatred” by choosing Edwards. Banks admits that “the goal of the ads is to mobilize Democratic voters because this is not a game.”
Banks accuses Rispone of embracing a president with "white supremacist views.” But if Rispone embraced a president with "white supremacist views," so did more than 58% of Louisiana voters in the last presidential race. A total of 1,178,638 Louisianans voted for Trump. He got more votes than any candidate in the history of the state. Does Banks also consider all those folks guilty of embracing "white supremacist views"?
“Why would John Bel Edwards run these ads knowing that they are not true?" Rispone asked. “Why would you bring David Duke into a gubernatorial race? And accuse me and President Trump of being David Duke?”
Edwards says he had nothing to do with the radio ads, but he refused to condemn them.
"It's disgusting. The governor has to answer for that," Rispone said.
Rispone is now running a campaign ad countering the Duke-themed ads. In it, a narrator says: "That's how far the radical left will go to keep liberal John Bel Edwards in power. And if you don't agree, they'll call you a racist.” The Rispone ad also urges listeners to vote against Edwards and "his Trump-hating friends." The ad says Edwards is "too weak to stop these hateful attacks, too cowardly to condemn them."
The Rispone campaign says several fliers have also surfaced on New Orleans door handles tying the Republican candidate to Duke. The fliers also claim Rispone will not support Grambling or Southern. They conclude with, “Eddie Rispone is not for us.” Banks denies any involvement with the fliers, as does the Edwards campaign.
This type of race-baiting is indefensible, and Edwards should say so publicly. But the governor knows he needs a heavy turnout from black voters for him to have a chance against Rispone in a deeply conservative state. It’s to his advantage if black voters view Rispone as racist. But Edwards also needs at least some support from conservatives. Refusing to condemn this type of identity politics campaigning will not sit well with many.
Unfortunately, the ugliness is not confined solely to the pro-Edwards camp. The Louisiana Republican Party responded to the Banks ads by claiming Edwards comes from a family that "has been racist for generations." In September, The Washington Times reported Edwards’ grandfather voted in favor of segregation as a legislator in 1956. The Times also documented how Edwards’ ancestors were active owners of slaves. The Times reports Edwards did not deny their findings.
"The actions of my ancestors before I was born, if true, do not in any way reflect my views," Edwards replied in a statement.
For the leadership in the Republican Party to attempt to paint Edwards as a racist because of his grandfather and ancestors is every bit as disgusting as Banks trying to connect Rispone to Duke. And just as Edwards should condemn the Banks ads, so should Rispone call out his own party leaders for playing the race card against the governor. Race-baiting is not a good look for anyone. It’s harmful and is the lowest form of campaigning. Hopefully, voters will see right through it.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.