RICHMOND — Republican Senate candidate Ed Gillespie has tried to capitalize on a controversy that has ensnared Sen. Mark R. Warner with a new ad in the final weeks of the campaign — but the effort featured an erroneous news report that was quickly pulled.
The ad included a TV report that mischaracterized a discussion Warner (D) had with the son of former state senator Phillip P. Puckett, a Democrat from southwest Virginia, about potential jobs for Puckett’s daughter, ranging from a federal judgeship to private-sector work.
At the time, Puckett was on the verge of resigning from the evenly divided state Senate, throwing control to the GOP. A federal investigation is underway surrounding the circumstances of his resignation, which came at a time when the Republican-controlled tobacco commission was preparing to offer him a job.
More recently, The Washington Post has reported that a senior aide to Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), as well as Warner, discussed the possibility of a job for Puckett’s daughter as a way to keep the Democratic senator from resigning.
Warner has said repeatedly that he did not make a job offer. Questions about his role, however, dominated a debate Monday and prompted Gillespie on Friday to circulate a 30-second ad that will air statewide starting Saturday.
In the ad Gillespie says: “Washington has changed Mark Warner. I would never play politics with a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. We need to change Washington. We can’t afford six more years of the last six years. I’m Ed Gillespie, and I approve this message because my policies will turn things around.”
The ad featured edited news clips from four TV stations, including an erroneous report that aired on WRC (Channel 4) in the District that said: “Warner is accused of trying to bribe a former state senator.”
The report was corrected Monday — days before Gillespie distributed his ad. “We recognized the error and corrected it on-air during three newscasts,” said Matt Glassman, assistant news director of the NBC-owned station.
Gillespie spokesman Paul Logan said the campaign was unaware of the correction until four days later, just after the ad was released to reporters and posted on YouTube. Logan said he was alerted to the error in a Twitter message from the Warner campaign and said his camp would omit the offending report before the ad airs Saturday on TV.
The campaign issued a new version of the ad later Friday.
“We had not actually seen the retraction, and the Warner campaign raises a legitimate objection to the use of that clip,” Logan said. “We’ll simply replace it with one of the many reports from stations all across Virginia.
“We’re also looking forward to the Warner campaign offering Virginia a much more thorough explanation of what he said in the phone call,” Logan said.
Warner campaign spokesman David Turner accused Gillespie of reaching a “new low” in the final three weeks of the race. The campaign also distributed a list of quotes from Virginia Republicans — albeit moderates who have long supported Warner — blasting Gillespie’s ad.
“I am a lifelong Republican and have always been disappointed in these kinds of vicious attacks from either political party,” former state senator Fred Quayle said in one of the statements. “Mark Warner has always worked across the aisle, both as governor and senator, to make Virginia better, and that is why I have chosen to endorse him.”
The new ad was released a day after it was reported that Gillespie pulled television ads planned for most of the week, with his campaign admitting that he couldn’t compete financially with Warner. According to campaign finance reports released this week, Warner has $8 million left to spend, compared with Gillespie’s $2 million, and he has benefited from more outside spending. A super PAC has spent more than $2 million to back Warner, reports show.
About an hour after Gillespie released the offending ad, Warner used the mistake in a fundraising pitch. In an e-mail to supporters, the campaign urged donors to pitch in $5 each against “a disgusting, misleading, and factually incorrect attack ad.”
Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.