Wright makes his first ad appearance, as everyone has something to say about Obama's electability

The North Carolina Republican Party has decided to produce and air (supposedly over the objections of the RNC) an ad blasting the state's two Democratic gubernatorial candidates for supporting Obama in the wake of Wright (you can watch the ad here). This ad starts one of the most discussed clips from a Wright sermon in which the pastor says "God damn America;" the bottom half of the screen describes Wright as "Obama's 'spiritual mentor' for 20 years." The ad goes on to announce that gubernatorial candidates Moore and Perdue are both supporting Obama and concludes them to be too extreme for North Carolina.

This ad is bound to be controversial, if only because it is I believe Wright's first appearance in a television ad that will get air time; it thus serves as the prelude to a crucial Republican strategy in the coming months. No matter how much the RNC and the McCain campaign profess to not want this ad to air, there is no question that many third-party groups will blast Obama with similar images. Another reason the ad is sparking a lot of controversy is its quite awful race-baiting, pointed out by Politico's Jonathan Martin. The ad places the focus on a picture of Obama with Perdue, a white woman, while the picture of Moore shows him alone; towards the end of the ad, the Perdue picture grows and Moore's recedes. You might remember that Republicans had already been accused of playing on the fear of interraciality in 2006 in Tennessee's Senate campaign featuring Harold Ford.

The ad is introduced in a context of heavy discussion of Obama's electability. Now that Clinton's main hope to clinch the nomination is to convince superdelegates that Obama is unelectable, his standing among white men, blue-collar voters and Catholics and his prospect of boosting African-American turnout are being closely examined; his verbal gaffes are fueling discussions about his prospects in November;and articles being penned about how Obama has become the "next McGovern." Odds are that this discussion is coming too late for it to meaningfully weaken Obama's hold on the nomination, but the discussion should certainly proceed. The answer to these questions will determine Obama's fate in November.

The Republican Party is clearly hoping that it can make Obama unelectable among white voters by using Wright's sermons as a rally point; these also allow them to race-bait while hiding behind a facade of patriotism. There will surely be a lot more where this came from, and Obama is going to have to weather those attacks convincingly.

But one thing has to be pointed out: There is for now no evidence anyone can give that Obama is suffering from an insurmountable electability problem; nor, for that matter, that Clinton is. Polls show both Democrats have weaknesses, and both have strengths; Hillary Clinton and Obama looking like the stronger candidate at differing times and in different states (just take a look at SUSA's latest wave of general election polls). In other words, these questions have not yet been answered conclusively.

This is why I ultimately find the North Carolina ad so surprising: Republicans might wish that running ads associating gubernatorial candidates to the Obama campaign would hurt down-the-ballot Democrats, but where are they getting the information that it will actually hurt them? If anything, Moore and Perdue probably want voters to see pictures of them associated with the Obama campaign; perhaps the GOP will succeed in making Obama radioactive by November, but it is absurd to treat the Illinois Senator as if he were George W. Bush. You might remember that, in the March special election in IL-14, the Democratic candidate ran ads featuring Obama; sure, this was his home-state, but IL-14 was a very red district. Foster won, and he clearly had no qualms about running on Obama's coattails.

The same argument applies to those who are certain that Clinton will drag down-the-ballot Democrats down. There is no evidence that Clinton runs worse than Obama in red states; if anything, most polls agree she motivates the Democratic base more even in deeply Republican areas. Such a disingenuous discussion of electability comes to us (as often) from Kos, who has become one of the most virulent anti-Clinton bloggers; yesterday, he wrote a post listing a very selective set of polls all showing that Obama is more electable than Clinton and concludes, "she runs behind Obama in the general." Any one who has read this site regularly knows that is not a conclusion that can be drawn that easily. Kos lists last week's SUSA polls from IA and MN, for instance but conveniently forgets too mention that the same day SUSA released surveys from OH and MO showing Clinton running 16 and 9 points ahead of Obama, respectively; not to mention all the polls suggesting that Obama would struggle tremendously in Massachusetts. Once again, this is not too say that Clinton is more electable than Obama but that it is partisan spin to herald as evidence of Obama's superior appeal a few carefully selected surveys.

But it is one thing for both sides to spin their own candidate's electability and their opponent's unelectability. It is quite another for the North Carolina Republican Party to try to hurt Moore and Perdue by stupidly highlighting their association with Obama when such an association probably helps them.

Clinton's hope must be that superdelegates take the bait and, afraid that these types of ads multiply across the country in the coming months, jump on the Clinton electability bandwagon. This was the same hope after bittergate when the NRCC was taunting Democratic representatives. It did not happen then, but this is obviously the type of events Clinton needs if she wants to change the tide.

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