The test of a good GOP attack ad: Do the Dems cry “Willie Horton”?

This November, Virginia voters will elect a new governor. The Democratic candidate is Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. The Republican candidate is Ed Gillespie.

Northam has been leading in most polls. However, a new survey by Suffolk University finds the candidates tied at 42 percent.

Gillespie nearly defeated Sen. Mark Warner in 2014 despite trailing badly in the polls. Remember, though, that 2014 was a great year for Republicans.

Gillespie is under fire for an ad he ran against Northam in which he attacked his rival for voting against legislation banning sanctuary cities in Virginia. The ad said that “sanctuary cities. . .let dangerous illegal immigrants back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13,” a vicious gang with ties to El Salvador that has wreaked havoc in parts of Virginia. It includes pictures of nasty looking members of a different gang with ties to El Salvador.

The left and the mainstream media are calling foul. They compare this ad to the one featuring Willie Horton that was used with great success by the campaign of George H.W. Bush in 1988.

As I argued at length here, the Willie Horton spot was a completely legitimate attack ad. It criticized Bush’s opponent, Gov. Dukakis, for releasing Horton (an African-American) from prison for the weekend. Horton used his freedom to undertake a vicious crime spree that included rape.

Al Gore had first raised the issue against Dukakis during the primary season and with good cause. Dukakis had one of the most liberal prisoner release programs in America and it directly produced the horrors described in the advertisement.

The ad was attacked for using a picture of Horton, who looked like a thug. But it wasn’t Bush’s fault that this vicious criminal didn’t resemble a choir boy.

What about Gillespie’s ad? It states: “MS-13 is a menace, yet Ralph Northam voted in favor of sanctuary cities that let dangerous illegal immigrants back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13.” The text on the screen says: “Ralph Northam: Increasing the threat of MS-13.”

The first two statements aren’t controversial. MS-13 is a menace. Northam voted against legislation that would have prohibited the establishment of sanctuary cities in Virginia. His vote broke a tie and meant that the legislation did not pass.

Sanctuary cities are, as the Washington Post says, localities that limit or ban cooperation with federal immigration authorities. As the name says, such localities serve, to a considerable degree, as a sanctuary for illegal immigrants.

The likely effect of not cooperating with federal law enforcement officials seeking to arrest illegal immigrants is to keep illegal immigrants, including dangerous ones, on the street. The likely effect of keeping dangerous illegal aliens on the street in portions of Virginia is to increase the threat of MS-13.

The Washington Post’s headline (paper edition) to its story about the ad : “Gillespie ad blames MS-13 rise on Northam.” But the ad says nothing about the causes of MS-13’s rise. It simply claims that Northam’s vote increases its threat.

The Post points out that Virginia has no sanctuary cities. But the issue is a live one, nonetheless, as the fact that it was put to a vote in the legislature shows. It’s quite possible that, absent a ban, some of Virginia’s many liberal localities will become sanctuary cities.

The Post also notes that the picture used by the Gillespie ad is not of MS-13 members, but rather of a rival gang, Barrio 18. Unless Barrio 18 members look significantly more threatening than their counterparts in MS-13, this seems like a quibble.

ThinkProgress complains that El Faro, an online digital newspaper in El Salvador that published the picture of the Barrio 18 members, did not authorize the Gillespie campaign to use the picture. If the campaign has thereby violated El Faro’s rights, the paper can seek redress.

As a campaign ad, though, Gillespie’s spot seems legitimate, though less compelling than the Willie Horton ad. Whatever Northam’s intentions, his vote has the real potential to make life easier for MS-13 and more perilous for those it wants, in the words of its motto, to “Kill, Rape, Control.”

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