Seeing yourself shake hands with a man you’ve never met is a confusing thing to come across on television.
Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., couldn’t figure out how footage of him with Donald Trump made its way into an attack ad in his contentious re-election campaign, considering he has never met the Republican candidate.
The Florida congressman is in a tough re-election bid for his Houseseat against Democratic candidate and former Florida Gov. Charlie Christ. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is behind the ad featuring Jolly, asked viewers to think about what electing Jolly along with Trump would mean.
“Imagine Donald Trump being sworn in as president,” the ad says. “And imagine David Jolly in Congress supporting Donald Trump’s dangerous agenda.”
Jolly’s face is Photoshopped on the body of another man in the photo that appears to show him shaking hands with Trump. The words “dramatization” appear on the screen.
"Not only have I never met Donald Trump," Jolly said. "I don't own a red-and-white striped tie."
Jolly’s lawyers don’t think the disclaimer is enough to clarify that the congressman, who has not endorsed Trump for president, doesn’t support his party’s candidate.
"Simply including the word 'dramatization' does not allow an advertiser to display fraudulent images,” Jolly’s lawyer wrote in a cease and desist letter to television station WFLA-Ch. 8 in Tampa, which has aired the ad. He also claims that because the spot was not produced by an individual candidate, the station is not obligated to air it as political speech.
Jolly said he would sue if stations don’t stop airing the ad.
The DCCC defended the ad and told stations to keep airing it.
"It is clear from both the context of the ad and the accompanying disclaimer that the images are not real, but are used to depict what the future might look like if voters support Representative Jolly's candidacy,” DCCC lawyers wrote. “There is no risk of confusion on this point.”
Media law may also be on their side: If a reasonable person can conclude the dramatization in the ad is fake, it is likely legal. The ad asks people to imagine the future with Trump in the White House, which could allow the DCCC to argue the spot depicts a future “what if” scenario, not something that has actually happened.
But similar Democratic efforts to tie down-ballot Republicans to Trump, who has floundered in the past week with a slew of allegations of sexual assault and release of video footage in which he brags about doing just that, may not be succeeding. FiveThirtyEight found that although Clinton is leading Trump by an average of 5.1 percentage points in 26 states, the average Democratic Senate candidate’s margin is down 1.5 percentage points. Republican Senate candidates have gained ground in all but four of the 26 states.
This may indicate that although Democrats hope voters will reject Republican Congressional candidates along with a Trump presidency, people increasingly split their ticket and vote for different parties for the White House and Congress.