You don’t need a poll to tell you how tight the major North Carolina races are.
All you have to do is turn on your TV and watch the political commercials featuring such sexually-laden issues as rape, sexual offenders and men going into girls’ locker rooms.
The ads have mainly been run by Republican incumbents Sen. Richard Burr and Gov. Pat McCrory or their allies, who are fending off difficult Democratic challenges.
Caught between an unpopular Republican presidential candidate in Donald Trump and a public backlash against House Bill 2, McCrory, Burr and their allies have been pushing hot-button issues that they hope will sink their Democratic challengers.
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Usually, such issues surface at the end of campaigns. Sometimes they work, as the famous “white hands” ad did. The ad from the 1990 campaign of Republican Sen. Jesse Helms had a pair of white hands tearing up an application, with the announcer saying the job had to go to a racial minority because Democrat Harvey Gantt supported racial preference laws.
Sometimes they don’t, such as in 2008, when Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole ran an ad that seemed to raise the question of whether Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan believed in God. Helms won; Dole lost.
Such ads are designed to appeal to people’s gut emotions, as are some of the ads that have running in recent weeks.
Consider the following.
▪ In one McCrory commercial, a middle-aged woman who is a rape victim talks about the backlog in processing rape evidence kits at the state’s CSI-type crime lab, controlled by Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper. “Roy Cooper can never be governor,” the woman says in an emotionally charged voice.
▪ In a Burr commercial, former Marine Sgt. Kelly Lowe of Onslow County, a rape victim, criticizes Democratic Senate candidate Deborah Ross for raising questions about a sex offender registry when she was an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in the 1990s. “She wants to protect sexual predators over victims,” Kelly says. “When they choose to rape, they don’t get those rights back.”
▪ An ad run by the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC associated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, goes after Ross as a “left-wing” politician more interested in protecting sexual predators than victims.
▪ Another McCrory ad features the governor defending HB2, the state law that overturned a Charlotte ordinance protecting the rights of transgender people. McCrory says, “Folks were actually pushing to make our schools allow boys to use girls’ locker rooms and showers.”
There is more sex talk going on in the political ads than in many daytime soap operas.
And we won’t even talk about the presidential campaign.
There are, of course, some political commercials that reflect what polls show most Tar Heels are most concerned about: education, jobs and the economy.
But more than in any campaign in recent memory, this election is being driven by wedge issues. This almost certainly is a reflection of North Carolina being one of the top political battlegrounds in the country, with competitive races from top to bottom.
North Carolina is one of a handful of states that will likely decide the presidential contest.
Of the top 10 media markets for presidential ads in the country this year, Charlotte is third, Greensboro is fifth and Raleigh is sixth, according to the Wesleyan University Media Project. As of Sept. 15, more than 16,000 presidential ads have been run in the state, with three times as many pro-Clinton ads run as pro-Trump ads, according to the Media Project.
The McCrory-Cooper race is the most expensive and most closely watched governor’s race in the country, with more than 26,000 ads aired, according to the Media Project.
The Burr-Ross Senate race could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate next year.
So we should not be surprised that political campaigns are reaching for hot-button issues to gain an advantage.