In the last week of Virginia gubernatorial campaign, Republicans howled with outrage over an attack ad against gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie that featured a white man in a pickup truck bearing a Gillespie bumper sticker and a Confederate flag menacing minority children.
Some predicted conservatives and independents would be offended by the ad, titled “American Nightmare”and vote for Gillespie in protest.
That backlash didn’t materialize; Democrat Ralph Northam won by nine points. And the organization behind the ad, the Latino Victory Fund, says it will continue to take a confrontational approach in future elections.
“For the first time ever, a Latino organization pushed back aggressively in defense of our community. When we faced vicious, racist attacks, we turned the other cheek,” said Cristóbal J. Alex, president of the Latino Victory Fund. “This time, we threw a jab to the throat. And we will continue to do so.”
Alex was referring to anti-Northam ads launched through the fall by the Gillespie campaign that tried to equate illegal immigrants with violent Latino street gangs.
Colin Rogero, who produced and directed the “American Nightmare” ad, echoed the sentiment.
“Are we going to produce ads in the future that have more emotional content than what people have seen from Democrats? Absolutely. Those are the kind that help us win,” said Rogero. “Are they going to be as controversial as the truck ad? Maybe. Every situation and election is addressed individually.”
The ad only aired on Spanish language stations for two days before it was pulled down in the wake of a terrorist attack in Manhattan by a man driving a pick-up truck into pedestrians and cyclists.
That didn’t stop a ferocious response from conservative media outlets and editorial boards. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested the ad was “political racism.”
The backlash was so strong that the Latino Victory Fund had to shut off its phones.
“The truth hurts, and so they lashed out,” Alex said.
David Turner, a Northam spokesman, said the campaign saw signs that conservatives were broadly aware of the Latino Victory Fund ad in the last week of the campaign.
But exit polls show six in 10 late-deciders broke toward Northam, suggesting that Gillespie voters had made up their minds before the controversy over “American Nightmare.”
Northam defended Latino Victory Fund for responding to what he called a fear-mongering campaign from Gillespie, later adding that it’s not the kind of commercial he would have aired.
“There were better ways to do the ad that would have been effective in a way to move independents and turn out Latinos,” said Turner, stressing that he credited the Latino Victory Fund’s broader voter mobilization efforts for bringing Latino voters to the polls. “Republicans would have found something else to glom onto and try to drive the turn-out in the same fashion by revving up the outrage machine.”
A campaign spokesman for Gillespie and a Virginia spokesman for the Republican National Committee did not immediately respond to requests for comments.