Stop us if you've heard this one.
A vulnerable Democrat, a gay guy and a black guy walk into a campaign smear piece...
Live in the right districts in Minnesota and you might be seeing that gag on your doorstep. It looks ugly. And it sure sounds like dog whistle politics.
A series of campaign ads have circulated featuring local Democratic incumbents, and tying them to the "liberal Minneapolis agenda." How do you indicate someone's siding with urban liberals? By depicting them next to Sens. Scott Dibble and Jeff Hayden, who do indeed represent districts in the City of Minneapolis.
They also happen to be the most prominent gay and black lawmakers in the state, respectively.
The ads are meant to discredit incumbent DFL senators in swing districts: Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury), Lyle Koenen (Clara City), and Matt Schmit (Red Wing), whose defaming was first noted in the blog Bluestem Prairie.
"Over the last four years," reads one piece, "Senator Kent has voted with liberal Minneapolis Senator Scott Dibble 96 percent of the time and with liberal Minneapolis Senator Jeff Hayden 95 percent of the time instead of supporting the values and pocketbooks of voters in Woodbury, Maplewood, and Oakdale."
Then, at the bottom: "Minneapolis doesn't need another senator... we do."
Dibble, for one, is outraged at the disgusting misrepresentation in these ads.
"I was furious," he says. "I don't even own a pink tie. I would never wear a pink tie."
Dibble, who authored the senate bill to legalize gay marriage in Minnesota in 2013, says this is the first time he's aware of his name (or Hayden's) being used to directly link a Democrat to the state's urban core. The choices they made aren't lost on him.
"It does raise the eyebrow to see the gay guy and the black guy featured rather prominently as the two representatives of 'urban liberals,'" he says. "It definitely raises suspicion that you're trying to imply something more than urban liberalism. Even just the use of that phrase -- it's classic dog whistle politics."
Smear ads abound during campaign season: Voters in swing districts are beseiged with misleading, even offensive literature pieces that stuff their mailboxes and clutter the doorstep. But usually the most vile attacks get outsourced to independent expenditure groups.
What's different in this case is that the ads are paid for and approved by the Republican candidates themselves: Mike Goggin in Red Wing, Sharna Wahlgren in the eastern suburbs, and Andrew Lang out in Koenen's rural western Minnesota district.
"It's really interesting in all three cases ... to see the Republican candidates so willing to attach their names to an obviously really divisive piece," Dibble says. "That's unusual. Typically they want to kind of hide behind the apron strings of some other group."
The ads reek of desperation, to Dibble, who says he's confident none of the three DFL incumbents are going down next week. And certainly not because someone photoshopped them to make it look like they're hanging out with black and gay people whose heads are far too big for their bodies.
Ads like this might stir up a few "extremist" votes on the margins, Dibble says, but are more likely to offend "people of good will." He's heard that in Schmit's case, supporters responded to the smears by dumping money into his campaign coffers.
"When I saw the ad with Matt Schmit, I called a friend of mine who lives in Red Wing, a Republican," Dibble says. "And I just said, 'Looks like it's getting pretty ugly down there.' And my friend said, 'It's pathetic, it's desperate. And it's going to fail.'"
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