RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Republican Ed Gillespie, trailing in the polls and short on campaign cash, is hoping a last-minute appeal to devoted fans of the Washington Redskins' name gets him over the goal line in his Senate bid.
The Gillespie campaign ran ads statewide during the team's game "Monday Night Football" appearance on ESPN needling Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Warner for not being a more forceful advocate for the team's name, which critics say is derogatory toward Native Americans.
"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has a bill to force the Redskins to change their name," the ad's narrator said. "Mark Warner refused to answer if he supports the bill or not. Why won't Warner fight the anti-Redskins bill?"
Gillespie then tells viewers he would oppose Reid's legislation and "let the Redskins handle what to call their team."
Warner, who has not joined efforts by other Senate Democrats to pressure the National Football League to have the team's name changed and has said Congress should not get involved, mocked the ad.
"Down double digits, late in the fourth quarter, the Gillespie campaign threw an incomplete Hail Mary," his spokesman David Turner said.
The election is a week away and polls have consistently shown Warner, a popular former governor ahead. The most recent campaign finance report show Warner with $8 million compared to Gillespie's $2 million.
Gillespie campaign spokesman Paul Logan declined to say how much the expensive prime time football ads cost.
A limited cash supply led the former Republican National Committee chairman to cancel TV ads two weeks ago, and Gillespie loaned his campaign $400,000 last week. Logan said Gillespie — a Philadelphia Eagles fan who says he roots for the Redskins when they aren't playing his favorite team — did not make the loan explicitly to buy Monday's ad.
The anti-"Redskins" movement has gained momentum over the last year and a half and drawn in political, religious and sports figures in addition to Native Americans. But that momentum has also sparked a backlash in support of the team's name.
This summer, a small group of Virginia state lawmakers formed the "Redskins Pride Caucus" this summer. The group so far appears to have done little other than to proclaim its support for the team on social media.
Redskins' owner Dan Snyder has said he will never change the team's name.
Campaign records show Snyder and his wife gave Warner's campaign $10,000 in December. Snyder also gave Warner $25,000 when he successfully ran for governor in 2001. Robert Rothman, a part owner of the team, has given Gillespie $5,200 and Dwight Schar, another part owner, and his wife contributed $10,000 to Gillespie's campaign.
An Associated Press poll released last year found that 79 percent of Americans believed the name should not be changed, while only 11 percent thought it should be changed.
Football and politics go hand-and-hand in Virginia. The Warner campaign earlier this year released an ad featuring former Virginia Tech standout Bruce Smith advocating for Warner.
And during last year's gubernatorial campaign between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, a pro-McAuliffe political action committee paid for a plane to fly over a University of Virginia football game with a banner saying Cuccinelli supported the out-of-state opponent.
Associated Press writer Philip Elliott in Washington contributed to this report.