WASHINGTON (AP) — National Republicans launched an ad linking a Nebraska Democrat to a convicted murderer in a commercial echoing a spot with racial overtones that roiled the 1988 presidential race.
The ad criticizes House candidate Brad Ashford for supporting a state law that cuts prison sentences for time served, focusing on the early release of a black man, Nikko Jenkins, who committed four murders in 11 days.
"Nikko Jenkins was released from prison early after serving only half his sentence," the ad says. "Brad Ashford supported the 'good time' law and still defends it, allowing criminals like Nikko Jenkins to be released early."
The ad is similar to the 1988 commercial that Republicans aired against Democratic presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, tying him to a black man, Willie Horton, who committed crimes while on a weekend furlough.
Democrats on Friday demanded that the National Republican Congressional Committee pull the ad.
"This repellent, race-baiting ad has no place in America, and national Republicans should apologize and take it down immediately," said Ashley Lewis, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Republicans should be ashamed that they have resorted to divisive rhetoric, playing up racial stereotypes and fear-mongering to save their sinking candidate."
Republicans defended the commercial.
"Ashford should apologize for supporting a reckless law that releases violent criminals after only serving half of their original prison sentences," said Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Nebraska voters deserve to know that Brad Ashford supports policies that have made them less safe,"
Ashford is locked in a close race with Republican Rep. Lee Terry, who is struggling to hold onto his seat. Terry's insistence last year that he would keep his federal salary during the partial government shutdown has dogged the incumbent.
Earlier this year, Republicans criticized Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska for a commercial portraying former Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan as soft on crime. The ad focused on an infamous criminal case and the GOP demanded that the senator pull the Willie Horton-style spot.
Sullivan countered with his own ad. Both spots were pulled after complaints from the victims' family.