Campaign materials aimed at getting out the black vote are featuring references to lynchings, Jim Crow-era signs, racial unrest — and, as of last weekend, the Ku Klux Klan.
In Alabama, fliers distributed in largely black communities warn voters to cast ballots or else “land may be given to extremist groups to honor klansmen.” A copy of the flier was obtained by The Washington Times.
The specter of the KKK was raised as the latest example of the increase in racially charged scare tactics aimed at bolstering turnout in the black community, a traditional Democratic voting bloc that strategists view as key to winning razor-thin races in an otherwise Republican year.
Conservatives view the tactic with disgust. They argue that such race-baiting is condescending and assumes black voters are concerned solely with racism and not, for example, economic and foreign policy concerns.
“Democratic race-baiting is the ugly face of political desperation in 2014,” said a Sunday headline on the conservative website RedState.
On “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace asked Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, “Senator, aren’t Democrats playing the race card and playing it from the bottom of the deck?”
Mr. Cardin responded by criticizing Republicans for “efforts to depress the minority vote.”
“That should have no place in American politics. And we’re starting to see that again in some of these races,” he said.
In North Carolina, Republicans were outraged when the Senate Majority PAC began airing a radio ad last week linking Senate candidate Thom Tillis to the 2012 shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida.
“Tillis even led the effort to pass the type of Stand Your Ground laws that caused the shooting death of Trayvon Martin,” said the ad, which PolitiFact rated as “false.” Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was never brought up at George Zimmerman’s trial.
The conservative group American Commitment fired back with a radio ad denouncing the Senate Majority PAC spot, calling it, “a race-hustling Kay Hagan ad paid for by Harry Reid’s super PAC.”
Ms. Hagan, the Democratic incumbent, is locked in a tight contest with Mr. Tillis.
“Desperate to hold on to power, [President] Obama, Reid and Hagan are shamelessly race baiting, and it’s only going to get worse in the final weekend,” says the American Commitment spot. “Why? Because Obama and Reid fear Thom Tillis in Washington.”
Mr. Cardin insisted that the race “has been run on the issues, and I think Kay Hagan and the Democrats are proud of the way that race has been run.”
Ms. Hagan was also the beneficiary of what may be the campaign season’s most incendiary flier, which shows an old photograph of a white mob surrounding a black man hanged in the background with the message, “Kay Hagan Doesn’t WIN! Obama’s IMPEACHMENT Will Begin! Vote in 2014.”
The mailer, paid for by “Concerned Citizens of Cumberland County,” was placed on windshields of cars at predominantly black churches, according to press reports.
“[W]ith Democrats in danger of being wiped out by an anti-Obama-policies tsunami up and down the ballot, they are desperately attempting to divert attention from their failed policies with a vicious smear campaign of racial division,” Phil Kerpen, president of American Commitment, said in a website post.
The campaign fliers distributed in Alabama list “18 Reasons Why You Should Vote If You’re 18 Years Old or Older.” The flier includes the logo of the Alabama New South Coalition, a nonprofit group based in Montgomery.
A virtually identical flier is posted on the organization’s Facebook page. The group did not immediately return phone calls from reporters over the weekend.
The reasons include, “Land may be given to extremist groups to honor klansmen,” as well as, “Drug raids in only the Black community will continue if you don’t vote.” Another reason: “Police officers will be allowed to continue to stop and arrest you for nothing if you don’t vote.”
The flier also claims, “They will continue to deny the working poor the right to health insurance if you don’t vote,” and “You will continue to be a 3rd class citizen if you don’t vote.”
The flier does not mention candidates. On its website, the group says that it was envisioned to “hold no ties to any particular political party and would be open to persons of all races with a vision for a ‘New South.’”
In Arkansas, a racially charged mailer shows photos from this year’s rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, and says, “Republicans are targeting our kids, silencing our voices and even trying to impeach our president.”
The Ferguson unrest was touched off by the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a police officer.
In Georgia, a mailer from the state Democratic Party shows photos of children from Ferguson holding signs that say, “Don’t Shoot,” and warns, “If you want to prevent another Ferguson … Vote.”
Most of the racially charged fliers, mailers and ads have cropped up in the past few weeks as Democrats’ hold on several tight Senate races appears to be slipping. The party is expected to lose a number of Senate seats, which could shift control to Republicans.