WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Is Sen. Barack Obama the new Sen. Ted Kennedy, Sen. Hillary Clinton or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich? For Republican candidates and political ad makers, the White House hopeful might very well be.
Republicans across the country are now airing ads attacking Sen. Barack Obama.
A review of political television advertising nationwide shows that Obama has played a starring role or has been mentioned in at least 9 GOP-inspired ads designed to undercut a Democratic candidate in recent months.
In previous elections, Republicans have used Kennedy and Clinton -- especially in the South, where these two Northeast Democrats might not be as well received -- in negative ads targeting congressional or state Democratic candidates.
"We're starting to see Barack Obama come into play in mostly conservative districts," said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNSMI/CMAG, CNN's consultant on television advertising.
Obama's comments about small-town Pennsylvanians being "bitter" people who "cling to guns and religion" over frustration with the economy, and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's controversial remarks, have provided Republicans with material to try to inflict damage in down-ballot races.
"What they do is they draw on the negative character of a candidate, and they attach them to another candidate in the race," Tracey said. "The question is, is that negative character believable and defendable? That will be the test that these ads will have to stand up to in a few weeks."
Last week, a Mississippi Democrat running in a special election for an open House seat sought to distance himself from Obama after an ad linked him to the Illinois senator.
Republican candidate Greg Davis mentioned Wright and Obama's Pennsylvania comments in the ad against Democrat Travis Childers. Davis even claimed that Obama had endorsed Childers, which the Democrat denied.
"Sen. Obama hasn't endorsed my candidacy," Childers said. "I have not been in contact with his campaign, nor has he been in contact with mine."
Childers and Davis are battling for a seat in northern Mississippi, which has been reliably Republican but is viewed as a possible pickup for Democrats when voters head to the polls May 13.
In 1996, Newt Gingrich was in the cross hairs of Democratic ad makers who ran more than 800,000 campaign commercials featuring the then-House speaker. In 2006, Democrats used President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in their political ads.
Now, the Democratic National Committee and the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org have launched negative ads featuring presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain. But as with Obama, it is unclear whether McCain will be an effective negative icon.
"Right now, he's doing a lot to try and separate himself from George Bush," Tracey said. "Obviously, Democratic 527 groups and the Democratic National Committee are trying to link John McCain to George Bush. It'll depend on how successful their efforts are."
A 527 group, named after a section of the federal tax code, is a political organization not regulated by the Federal Election Commission.
As for the Republicans, longtime Clinton nemesis Dan Burton aired an ad last month that appears to hedge his bet on Obama while making sure his constituents do not forget Clinton's political power.
Burton, an Indiana congressman who investigated President Clinton as chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, faces a primary challenge Tuesday.
"One man had the courage to fight the Clintons, and is ready to stand up to the newest liberal leader, Barack Obama," the announcer states at the beginning of Burton's commercial. "Our conservative congressman, Dan Burton." Watch Burton's ad »
So, if Obama wins the nomination, does that mean it will be the end of negative Clinton ads?
"Hillary Clinton is a mainstay in Republican Party attack ads," Tracey said. "We will see her whether she is the nominee or whether Obama is the nominee." E-mail to a friend
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