Skip to main content

Is this the 'Wille Horton' ad of 2014?

By Jeremy Diamond, CNN
updated 5:30 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
  • Campaign ad for Nebraska incumbent Rep. Lee Terry slams Democrat Brad Ashford
  • It criticizes his support for a "good time" law that led to convict's early release
  • Ad notes the convict later killed four people

Washington (CNN) -- The National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee released a tough ad Friday that links the Democratic challenger in a competitive House race in Nebraska to a convicted serial killer.

The ad, which comes weeks before voters will decide the fate of incumbent Rep. Lee Terry, slams Democrat Brad Ashford for supporting a "good time" law that released convicted robber Nikko Jenkins from prison after he served half his sentence. Jenkins killed four people shortly after his release, a case that was highly publicized in Nebraska.

The TV spot opens with a news clip of a shackled Jenkins angrily shouting in the direction of news cameras before a picture of Jenkins' heavily tattooed face next to a shotgun appears on screen.

Responding to the ad Ashford's campaign manager, Kurt Gonska, said, "it's clear that Congressman Terry is fearing for his political life and will say and do anything to keep his $174,000 salary."

The House Democratic campaign arm immediately condemned the spot and called on the NRCC to apologize and pull the ad, which is expected to run for the next week, from the airwaves.

"This repellent, race-baiting ad has no place in America," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Ashley Lewis said. "Republicans should be ashamed that they have resorted to divisive rhetoric, playing up racial stereotypes and fear-mongering to save their sinking candidate."

Cantor loss 'sending shivers' among GOP

Jenkins is black, and the ad drew immediate comparisons to the 1988 Willie Horton attack ad, which overtly tied Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis to the crimes convicted murderer Willie Horton committed while on weekend furlough under Dukakis' governorship.

The ad was believed to be wildly effective in compounding claims that Dukakis was soft on crime, but has since been widely repudiated by both the left and right.

Republicans don't appear ready to condemn this ad, and NRCC spokesman Tyler Houlton said the committee has no plans to cancel the ad buy.

"Brad Ashford's record on crime is fair game," Houlton said, noting that Ashford still defends the law. "Nebraska voters deserve to know that Brad Ashford supports policies that have made them less safe."

Terry campaign manager Kent Grisham attempted to slightly distance the campaign from the ad, but would not condemn it.

"There's no denying the ad is factual. However, our campaign has made it a point in our advertising not to invoke the names of specific criminals or victims," Grisham said. "Still, the ad reflects the issues of this campaign, one of which is why does Brad Ashford still support the good time law?"

The NRCC expects to spend about $1 million in the contentious Nebraska race. About $170,000 will keep this ad on air for a week.