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Mary Bono Mack fails to capitalize on racially-charged ads

Here we are in late 2012, a time period that the American public is made to believe is increasingly evolved, if not entirely divorced from eras in which race had been a serious factor for consideration in everyday decision-making.

But upon reviewing this article, and the results of these elections, it appears that the only difference between yesteryear and today: you can't publicly admit that race is a factor.

Via Facebook, I was made aware of a photo showing two maps. One was of the general election results of 2012, and another of the states. The slave states voted for Romney +Idaho and Indiana while the "free" states voted for Obama.

This is was an interesting juxtaposition, considering that the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, did not have such problems in 1992 nor 1996. As an Arkansas bred-Southern Democrat, he was able to win Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Missouri, Kentucky.

A bevy of articles have been written about how Romney relied exclusively on the imagined sentiments of the "white vote", and lost possibly because of that reliance.

With changing demographics, new voters and voting patterns have emerged in the past election cycle.

In local races, at least here in California, relying upon the white demographic exclusively might be a losing strategy and may permanently be that way.

One case example: Mary Bono Mack vs. Raul Ruiz.

A few days ago on election day in the heat of my self-styled election fever, I had been watching local coverage hoping for breaking news.

While waiting, I came across an ad for a House of Representatives race a little away from LA County.

The ad I later found out was for Mary Bono Mack, Republican, running for the House of Representatives in the newly formed District 36 against emergency room doctor Raul Ruiz, a Democrat.

Mary Bono Mack has been a 7-term U.S. congresswoman, serving for 14 years in the House of Representatives, after her husband Sonny Bono of Sonny & Cher fame died in a skiing incident in 1998. She is married to Connie Mack, another Congressman who just lost his seat in Florida. She was also co-chair of Romney's California team.

Throughout her term, she has been a fairly moderate, somewhat popular Republican congresswoman, but has long been criticized as being inaccessible. Most pundits expected her to retain her seat, as she had won the June 2012 primaries 58% to Ruiz's 42%.

The newly formed US House of Representatives District 36 in California is located in Riverside County. It is more widely known as Coachella Valley, about 50-70 miles away from LA County and includes cities such as Palm Springs, Indio, Hemet, all the way to the city of Blythe. The vast part of the district had previously been US House of Representatives District 45 and has traditionally been Republican.

I'm not sure who Ms. Bono Mack was attempting to hit with her ad placed in the Los Angeles area, but it certainly caught my attention.

If you can't watch it here, this is what happens:

1) Mary Bono Mack is seen at desk with glasses, apparently reading and doing work. She approves the following message.

2) The ad then leads to images of a dreadlocked Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Leonard Peltier, with the obviously long Native American hair, and in the middle, the candidate Raul Ruiz. An audio tape of the candidate Raul Ruiz, from a recording in 1998, is played. He starts out innocuously saying "Were walking in the land of giants with Mumia. We're walking in the land of giants with Leonard Peltier..."

4) A flashing caption of "Convicted Cop Killers" is highlighted in red over the names of Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier

5) Momentum builds up in Ruiz's audio recording as he belts with a quickened pace, "...if Leonard Peltier is guilty, then were all guilty, this one's for freeeeeedooom!!!"

6) We then cut to footage of Police Officer William Hutchinson in suit backed by others in suits saying, "The statements he made cannot be tolerated by police officers. We cannot expect this type of person to represent our interests in Congress."

7) We snap back to images of Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier, and now the photo of Raul Ruiz in the middle is one in which his face looks angry, the caption asks the viewer, "How Could anyone possibly support Raul Ruiz?" and they replay the unexplained sound bite of Ruiz yelling "this one's for freeeeedooom!!!"

8) We end on a split-second clip of an FBI Agent named Nick O'Hara saying "Shame on You"

The ad plays heavily on imagined imagery of these people, Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier, figures relatively alien to younger voters, with only the labels "cop killer" planted next to their faces, and their respective pan-African and Native American hairstyles to inform us of who or what they are.

The ad is an unapologetic attempt to highlight all of his "bad" associations, as a few political ads do, but it is unique in that it points out how bad Ruiz is not through his record of any corruption or failure in governance or policy-making, but his fault was in his beliefs, and associations with those beliefs.

The associations with that belief are clearly meant to implicate not just a 'radical' politics, but a radical 'racialized' politics.

The 'racialized' dimension is important as it attempts to activate the imagination of someone who is outside the mainstream of America and wants to attack it. Someone anti-American. Who is likely to be anti-American? Presumably someone non-white. The Arabic-sounding name of Mumia Abu-Jamal combined with dreadlocks and a long-haired Leonard Peltier, amplified by de-contextualized yelling, are used in unison to not only discredit Ruiz's campaign, but to also impeach on his membership in the US citizenry.

Needless to say, I was shocked if not mildly amused. It immediately brought to mind, the fear-mongering ad of the 1980s by George W. Bush in which the case of Willie Horton, an inmate in Massachusetts, was used to scare voters into thinking that then-presidential candidate Michael Dukakis would let all these murderers loose on the street.

And that wasn't even Bono Mack's worst ad.

That distinction belongs to an ad in which Bono Mack attacks Ruiz for attacking Thanksgiving...in 1999.

In case this ad is not immediately visible, another ad attacked Ruiz and his standing on Thanksgiving. This ad overtly states what they want voters to think of Ruiz as, "a radical."

Not in the benign sense, but the turbulent, violent, jihad-esque sense.

The ad unapologetically attacks Ruiz' credentials as an American and his basic ability to uphold "American values."

Here is the video in question.

1) It begins with Mary Bono Mack at her desk, pretending that she's working, saying that she's Mary Bono Mack and approves the message

2) It opens with a nondescript obviously white family with two blonde women, a father, some child visible at the table and a voiceover saying "Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday..."

3) The voiceover throws the gauntlet down, saying..."But not for Raul Ruiz" as we cut to a close-up black and white photo of Raul Ruiz and hectic-and-turbulent sounding quasi-tribal drumbeats. A caption and voiceover highlights that Raul Ruiz "attacks Thanksgiving and our American values."

4) The background image shifts to a nondescript crowd where it looks like there's fighting and civil unrest. A caption reads that "Ruiz protested with Anti-American Pro-Palestinian Agitators." The voiceover reveals that "a statement was read from cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal calling Thanksgiving a 'Holocaust"

5) The picture changes into a black and white photo of Raul Ruiz with long hair braided back like a Native American in a row with people who are blurred from the initial picture. A statement from a newspaper is highlighted showing that Ruiz could have faced up 3 years in prison for his part in the protest. The voiceover says "another protest turned violent and Ruiz was arrested."

6) The photo still showing unblurs the rest of the people along the row, and the voiceover as well as the dark red captions on the screen suggest that it is "outrageous" that Ruiz is running for Congress.

Raul Ruiz had to significantly dial down and divorce himself from those statements, dismissing his spoken statements and support to youthful, non-evidenced idealism.

In 2006, Bono Mack had commended a local radio talk show hosts' satiric description of Coachella, a city of 40,000 in which 96% report being Latino, as a "third world toilet."

For all her attempts, to demonize his Americanness, with substantially more in her war chest, her appeals fell short to a rookie, now-incoming Congressman.

Perhaps it had to do with the growing Latino majority, which according to the latest Census estimates put them at 46% of the current district, up from 38% in 2000.

But calling him a rookie or citing the growing Latino demographics is not to take away credit from Raul Ruiz' own efforts. He'd gained the backing of Bill Clinton. In less than a few months, he was able to turn his substantial margin behind into a majority vote.

As of Friday, Mary Bono Mack conceded the race, with Ruiz up by 7,300 votes out of 182,000 cast. The vote gives the Democrats four seats previously held by Republicans in the House of Representatives.

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