BATON ROUGE, La. – A Louisiana Democratic Party ad accusing Republican candidate for governor Bobby Jindal of calling Protestants "scandalous, depraved, selfish and heretical" has prompted a firestorm of criticism and calls Tuesday from the GOP to take the ad off the air.
Political watchers questioned whether the ad went too far and whether it accurately reflects Jindal's writings on Catholicism. Republicans and the head of a national Catholic organization called the ad a smear campaign.
Democrats say the 30-second TV spot — running in heavily Protestant central and north Louisiana — simply explains Jindal's beliefs with his own words, using portions of Jindal's religious writings through the 1990s, before he was an elected official.
A lawyer for the Jindal campaign sent a letter to nine television stations airing the ad, requesting that they stop showing it and calling it defamatory.
State Democratic Party officials said they won't end the TV ad, and neither of the major Democratic candidates, state Sen. Walter Boasso and Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, called for the ad to be removed from the air.
But a former communications strategist for Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who isn't running for re-election in the Oct. 20 primary, called the ad an outrageous attack that distracts from more important topics in the governor's race, like hurricane recovery, health care and education.
"I have a pretty high tolerance for this kind of stuff, but my reaction was I was fairly well shocked. I was really surprised that the party would run something that explosive and that inflammatory," said Bob Mann, now a mass communication professor at Louisiana State University.
A north Louisiana political analyst said it likely wouldn't peel voter support away from Jindal, R-La., a congressman and front-runner in the governor's race.
"Democrats have every right to hold up his voting record. I think that is completely legitimate. But when you get into this particular issue, I don't know that it works to do anything but turn people off," said John Sutherlin, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana-Monroe.
"I don't know that it picks up one vote for either Democrat in the race," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Democratic Party said the ad is slated to run for about a week. It features a woman on-screen — an actress hired for the TV spot — saying Jindal doesn't respect other people's religion and directs viewers to a Web site with links to several articles Jindal wrote on Catholicism.
"He wrote articles that insulted thousands of Louisiana Protestants," the narrator says.
A review of Jindal's writings on Catholicism, however, show the Republican congressman's positions on faith to be more nuanced than the ad suggests.
In a 1996 article for New Oxford Review, a Roman Catholic magazine, Jindal talks of the Catholic religion as the true Christian faith and refers to a "scandalous series of divisions and new denominations" of religions since the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century.
"Despite my best efforts, I could find no justification in the Bible or the early church for any individual to establish his own church apart from the one established by Christ," Jindal wrote.
But he also wrote of the binding ties of Christianity and says the Catholic Church must incorporate the "spirit-led movements" of other Christian faiths.
Jindal said the ad distorts his writings. Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League, a watchdog group, said it was a "scurrilous smear" job.
"It's beneath contempt, an insult to everyone regardless of faith, and it will spell the Louisiana Democratic Party's own undoing," said Michael DiResto, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Louisiana.
The top two Democratic candidates in the governor's race said they weren't connected to the anti-Jindal ad, but they also didn't complain about the ad.
Boasso, D-Arabi, said if the quotes were true, Jindal should retract them.
Campbell, D-Elm Grove, said Jindal needed to "quit squealing" about attack ads. He said a Jindal campaign ad that started running statewide this week that compares Campbell and Boasso to clowns shoving their pockets with cash and unable to fight corruption is untrue but he wasn't calling to take it off the air.
"He wants everything his way. Well, that's not going to happen. He doesn't own this state, he doesn't control this state, and he doesn't control the media," Campbell said.