‘Black folk will be catching hell again.’ Ads seek to scare black voters in Missouri

A new radio ad seeks to frighten black voters away from Sen. Claire McCaskill’s campaign by suggesting the Democrat supports lynchings.

Another ad tells black voters to ask McCaskill “why she doesn’t want our children?”

It took Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s campaign more than four hours to respond to the ads, which are meant to boost the Republican’s campaign. The one-sentence response came after African-American Democratic leaders blasted Hawley’s silence and McClatchy provided audio of both ads to the campaign.

“Of course we don’t support this,” Kelli Ford, spokeswoman for Hawley, said of the ads.

A North Carolina-based political action committee has spent nearly $30,000 on the ads, and is facing widespread backlash for similar spots running in other states.

The lynching-themed Missouri ad features two African-American women discussing the treatment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his Senate confirmation hearings and contends that African-American men will be presumed guilty if accused of rape.

“Black folk will be catching hell again,” one of the women says in the ad, which is referred to as the “Emmett Till” ad in an audio file that was shared with McClatchy. Till was an African-American teen lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after being accused of whistling at a white woman.

Another of the group’s Missouri ads accuses McCaskill, the Democratic incumbent who supports abortion rights, of not caring “that black babies that are aborted three times more likely than white babies,” said Vernon Robinson, the treasurer of Black Americans for the President’s Agenda, which has paid for ads in St. Louis and Kansas City.

In the ad, two African Americans discuss photos of their grandchildren. The conversation then pivots to abortion.

“Josh Hawley and the Republicans know that black babies matter… And it looks like to me the only black lives that matter to Claire McCaskill are the ones that have a pulse and can make it to the polls to vote for her,” the one woman says in the ad.

The other woman responds that she plans to vote for Hawley, saying, “The next time Claire McCaskill asks for our vote, ask her why she doesn’t want our children.”

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Robinson explained the motivation behind both ads, saying “Without 90 percent of the black vote, Claire McCaskill will not be re-elected.”

McCaskill has already had to combat the notion that she’s not done enough to reach out to African American voters on the campaign trail before the ads began airing.

Robinson said the ads are airing on urban contemporary stations, including KMJK in Kansas City. He noted that the race in Missouri between McCaskill and Hawley is one of the closest in the nation and could decide control of the Senate when asked why the political action committee decided to air the ads.

Federal Election Commission filings identify no donors to Robinson’s PAC from Missouri.

The lynching ad is nearly identical to an ad being aired in a U.S. House race in Arkansas, which has been condemned by Rep. French Hill, R-Arkansas, the candidate it seeks to boost.

The wording differs slightly between the two ads. The Missouri ad omits the explicit use of the word “lynching,” which is used in the Arkansas ad.

“I’m voting for Josh Hawley for Senate because we have to protect our men and boys. We can’t afford to let Claire McCaskill take us back to the bad old days of race verdicts, life sentences or worse when someone screams rape,” one of the women states in the Missouri version of the ad.

McCaskill’s campaign did not immediately respond to the ads, which have the explicit goal of steering African American voters away from her campaign.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri, said members of the black community in the state who’ve heard the ad are incredulous — and “boiling mad.”

Cleaver, the first African American to serve as Kansas City mayor, said his own initial reaction was disbelief when he heard the audio, which he described as an “exaggerated stereotype of a black woman’s voice.”

Cleaver stressed that he doesn’t know Hawley personally, but he said Hawley should disavow the ad.

He was sure that Hawley’s mentor and “No. 1 supporter,” former Republican Sen. John Danforth of Missouri, would condemn the ad.

“It doesn’t even require a great deal of toughness, just: ‘This is not who we are and I’m not going to glorify something that’ s designed to tear us apart,’” Cleaver said.

Jamilah Nasheed, a black state senator from the St. Louis area, called the ads “appalling” and “gutter-type politics.”

“If Hawley is not willing to stand up speak out and condemn that type of propaganda then he’s not fit for leadership,” Nasheed said.

Robinson, who worked on Ben Carson’s failed 2016 presidential campaign, rejected the notion that the ads are racist.

“What’s racist about the ad? Nobody’s been able to tell me yet,” he said. “It’s an effective ad. Nobody cares about a wimpy ad. People only care about ads if they’re effective.”

Hawley has repeatedly highlighted the controversy surrounding Kavanaugh’s confirmation on the campaign trail and has repeatedly attacked McCaskill for voting against his nomination.

McCaskill voted against Kavanaugh, but was one of seven Democrats who did not speak during the Senate debate on his confirmation.

Robinson served on the Winston-Salem City Council from 1997 to 2001 and has run for office in North Carolina several times. He received less than 1,000 votes in a 17-way GOP primary in North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District in 2016. Robinson also ran for the U.S. House in North Carolina’s 8th district in 2012 and was the Republican nominee for state superintendent of public instruction in 1996.

The Winston-Salem Journal wrote that “Jesse Helms is back! This time, he’s black,” about Robinson when he was running for office in 2004. Robinson adopted the moniker.

In a 2003 blog post, Robinson said “as a black Republican, I will be especially reviled by the Left. That’s because I will be able to say the kinds of things that many conservatives are afraid to say out of fear that the liberal media will brand them racist.”

He changed his political affiliation from Republican to Constitution Party this year, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. In a statement, he complained that neither of the major parties would “repeal Obamacare, defund Planned Parenthood, stop the illegal alien invasion, prosecute those who use the intelligence services to attack an opposition party, balance the federal government or reduce the size and scope of government.”

Allison Kite and Lindsay Wise of The Kansas City Star contributed to this report.
Brian Murphy: 202-383-6089, @MurphinDC
Bryan Lowry: 202-383-6167, @BryanLowry3

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