OKLAHOMA CITY – Democrats accused Republicans of "race baiting" Wednesday for running a television ad in the Oklahoma Senate race that shows images of Hispanics and dark hands receiving welfare payments.
The ad is the latest in a series of bitter episodes in the fight between Democratic Rep. Brad Carson (search) and Republican Tom Coburn (search) — a campaign that could be pivotal in the battle for control of the Senate.
The ad by the National Republican Senatorial Committee attacks Carson's voting record on immigration. The narrator says Carson had pledged to fight for Oklahoma jobs but had voted to make it easier for illegal immigrants to "cross our borders and take our jobs" and to allow immigrants to get welfare.
Democratic leaders demanded that the ad be pulled immediately.
"The 'black hands' ad the NRSC is running in Oklahoma crosses the line and runs counter to any kind of productive discourse," said New Jersey Sen. Jon Corzine (search), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
He said the ad "is a clear example of race baiting" and demanded that the committee "take this ad down now and apologize to our nation's Hispanic and African-American populations."
Dan Allen, communications director at the NRSC, said the ads would continue to run.
"The ad that is running is factual and it takes a look at Brad Carson's D.C. voting record," Allen said. "The Democrats' charges are ridiculous and they are trying to divert attention from Brad Carson's liberal voting record in Washington."
He declined comment when asked if showing dark or black hands receiving welfare payments could be taken as racist.
John Hart, spokesman for Coburn, said he had not seen the ad and had no immediate comment.
Carson spokesman Kristofer Eisenla said no one was more committed to stopping illegal immigration than the Democratic candidate.
"To be opposed to people breaking the law is not racist," Eisenla said. "However, for Tom Coburn's Washington, D.C. friends to place an ad on Oklahoma television that is both racist and inaccurate stoops to a level that is divisive on an issue that we instead need real conversation about and not stereotypical bigotry."
Scott Howell, a media consultant in Dallas who produced the television spot in question, said Democrats are blowing the issue out of proportion.
"They are the ones that are race-baiting by even bringing this up," Howell said. "They are coming to conclusions and making irrational assumptions. They were the hands of a clerk. They could have been the hands of any color. It's a reach."
Democrats said the spot is reminiscent of former North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms' "white hands" political ad. Helms was running for re-election against a black opponent in 1990 when he ran an ad showing white hands crumpling a piece of paper. The ad went on to say: "You needed that job and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota."