Smith's anti-abortion ads bring culture wars into D.C. delegate race

By Mike DeBonis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 28, 2010; 6:58 PM

Missy Reilly Smith agrees with the rest of the world: Her political commercials are revolting.

"You think I like 'em?" asked the 67-year-old District Republican, a candidate for congressional delegate. "You know, is it something where I wake up in the morning and put out on my table while I'm eating?"

One of her 30-second ads includes the image of a bloodied late-term fetus, followed by a picture of two more fetuses, blackened and scarred by a saline abortion. Another ad begins with the stuff of "miracle of life" public-TV documentaries - before resolving into a photo of President Obama followed by a pair of dismembered fetal limbs, set next to a dime to highlight their proportions.

Not what anyone likes to have with their Wheaties. "Vile," Smith calls it. "Absolutely vile."

Yet Smith, with the help of money raised by a national network of pro-life activists, is bombarding TV viewers in the city and suburbs with the disturbing images. The ads have run for nearly two weeks on broadcast stations in the D.C. market, during programs such as "Seinfeld," "Saturday Night Live" and "Everybody Hates Chris." Thanks to a recent buy on Northern Virginia cable stations, Smith estimates that her commercials will have run more than 500 times before polls close Tuesday, accompanied in almost all cases by disclaimers making it clear that the stations had no choice.

Even among the insular world of hard-core anti-abortion activists, Smith describes herself as a member of a band apart. She is a close ally of Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue and one of the movement's most militant and controversial leaders.

It was Terry, Smith said, who knew of a bulletproof provision in federal law: Holders of broadcast licenses are required to air federal candidates' advertisements unedited in whatever time slots they can afford. He suggested to several members of his "Insurrecta Nex" network that they run for office, using the accompanying legal protections to air the graphic ads. "I was the only one who picked up the ball and ran with it," Smith said.

Using e-mail lists compiled by Terry and others, Smith has appealed to like-minded activists across the country. In her appeals, Smith plays up that the ads will run "in the belly of the beast" - in the city where Roe v. Wade was decided. "This is where it started, and this is where it's going to end," she said.

Her candidacy, she said, has been boosted by more than $50,000 in donations, and she expects as much as $100,000 to come in by Election Day. (Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show about $17,000 in receipts, but Smith is not required to report donations under $1,000 apiece.)

In a city where the local Republican apparatus focuses attention on pocketbook concerns and good government while taking a libertarian tilt toward social concerns, Smith is an unapologetic culture warrior. This year, the party organization didn't endorse candidates in citywide races, focusing instead on D.C. Council seats, which left an opening for an outsider.

Paul Craney, the D.C. GOP's executive director, said Smith approached him months ago about her run for Congress. "I asked her not to run," Craney said. "It wasn't really a campaign. It's just ads about abortion. . . . Her tactics seem to be out of sync with the city."

Smith wasn't surprised by the brush-off. "They're homosexual. Why do you think they would support me?" she said, noting accurately that the local party's chairman is active in the Log Cabin Republicans, a national group of gay GOPers.

The idea is by any measure ingenious. The federally protected ads are one thing; the barrage of media coverage Smith has gotten as a result - what the campaign pros call "earned media" - is another. She appeared on CNN's "Situation Room" and on radio shows across the country. And, yes, in The Washington Post.

Smith has no chance of ousting Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who is seeking her 11th term as delegate. Abortion is rarely an issue in any political race in the overwhelmingly Democratic and liberal metropolitan area, let alone in the District. Her boast of being a "tea party activist who hates big government, high taxation, socialism and government bailouts" is, as Craney says, "out of sync," to say the least.

But give Smith and Terry credit for one thing: In an election cycle dominated by economic issues, Smith has found a way to rekindle the most divisive of cultural issues. And, once again, D.C. residents pay an odd price for living in the national capital.

Smith's campaign could become a biennial tradition. If she doesn't oust a member of pro-choice Democrats - or, as she refers to it, the "party of death" - she'll be back in two years with the same ads. And two years after that.

"All I can see in my mind are these little babies that have been murdered," she said.

And now, apparently, so do we.

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