GOP’s Attack-Ad Guru Wades into Neb. Senate Primary

by Eliana Johnson

Larry McCarthy, the ad man who gained acclaim on the right for producing the 1988 Willie Horton ad, which attacked Michael Dukakis over furloughing violent felons, is dipping his toes in the water of the hotly contested Senate primary in Nebraska. 

He’s doing so with a positive ad that highlights the insurgent GOP candidate, Midland University president Ben Sasse, who right now trails his better-known primary opponent, former state treasurer Shane Osborn, by eleven points

“How can Nebraska stop Obamacare and wasteful Washington spending,” a narrator asks. “We can start by electing Ben Sasse.” Starting today, the spot will air in Nebraska for two weeks. The ad touts the endorsements Sasse has received from House Budget committee chairman Paul Ryan and from National Review itself. (You can read John Miller’s cover story for our January 27 issue – ”Obamacare’s Nebraska Nemesis” – here.) Sasse has earned other big-name endorsements as well: from the Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund, Tom Coburn, and Mike Lee, among others. Osborn is the former Navy pilot who came to national attention in 2001 when a Chinese fighter jet downed his spy plane and captured him and his crew. 

The ad is up courtesy of a $300,000 buy from from 501(c)(4) group Legacy Foundation Action Fund, which advocates for “responsible and responsive government” on issues from tax policy to education. 

McCarthy, a protégé of Roger Ailes, counts among his political clients on the ballot this year Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and Arizona gubernatorial candidate Doug Ducey.

He has already produced one of the most talked-about attack ads of the election cycle, for the outside conservative group Ending Spending. Though it was aimed at New Hampshire senator Jeanne Shaheen, it’s an ad that, as the Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza has noted, can and probably will be replicated by Republicans across the country who are challenging incumbent Democrats. The spot hit Shaheen for her vote in support of Obamacare: It shows Shaheen repeating the president’s promise — and PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year — that “you can keep your insurance if you like it.” It closes with the narrator taunting, “Next November, if you like your senator, you can keep her. If you don’t, you know what to do.”

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