Dems and Some GOPers Condemn Nebraska Willie Horton Redux Ad

Lauren Victoria Burke
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) talks to Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) prior to a news conference Sept. 19, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

A political ad aired by the National Republican Congressional Committee is being called out by many as racist. The ad, which has political circles buzzing and has gone viral, with more than 150,000 views on YouTube, has political observers pointing out that it's effectively a duplicate of the infamous Willie Horton spot from 1988. That ad was created by the notoriously vitriolic political consultant Lee Atwater.

Both the Horton ad and the NRCC's ad, featuring Nikko Jenkins, have familiar themes: a black murderer, at least one of whose victims was a white female, and the claim that "soft on crime" policies are to blame.


The ad produced around Jenkins is the Republican Party's attempt to assist Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry, who's in a close race against state Sen. Brad Ashford. And though Terry's campaign claims that it would not have produced the ad, the congressman hasn't denounced it. Terry has been in Congress for 16 years, and many predict he'll lose on Nov. 4. The release of this late-in-the-game and over-the-top ad looks to be the familiar tactic of a losing campaign. 

Jenkins, who was diagnosed as schizophrenic, murdered four people over a 10-day period in the summer of 2013. Before the murders, he was released while in jail on an assault charge under Nebraska's "good time" statute.

What the ad fails to mention is that it was Nebraska Republicans who pushed the "good time" statute through the Legislature—and it was signed into law by Republican Gov. Dave Heineman. Instead, the 30-second spot seeks to attach Ashford—a former Republican who switched parties—to the murders. It comes complete with a predictable frame of Jenkins and the senator in side-by-side photos.

Similarly, in the 1988 Horton ad, then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis' photo flashes onscreen right after this line: "Horton fled, kidnapped a young couple, stabbing a man and repeatedly raping his girlfriend. Weekend prison passes. Dukakis on crime."   


In the Jenkins ad, a female narrator says, "Brad Ashford supported the good-time law and still defends it, allowing criminals like Nikko Jenkins to be released early."

Even some Republicans aren't happy with the ad. "Is this what the Republican Party has become?" wrote Terry's Republican primary challenger, Dan Frei. "We should expect more from our party than the strategy of negative campaigning and the politics of personal destruction," he wrote on Facebook.


The Jenkins ad is, in part, what results from the politics of obstruction. House Republicans such as Terry have almost no work product to campaign on after being in the least productive House in history, part of a majority whose main strategy is obstruction.  

Former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele said, "The ad doesn't tell you anything other than that consultants are stupid." He added, "To put the story in this frame says something very racist, in my view." 


Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who represents what may be the most diverse congressional district in the country, called the ad "a national disgrace." 

"The ad is factually inaccurate, it's socially irresponsible and it's morally reprehensible," Jeffries said. He also questioned the "unwillingness of the Republican Party and of the congressman to do the appropriate thing and urge that it be pulled down."


Jenkins' story may be more about the way the American criminal-justice system handles mentally ill patients. Jenkins had informed prison officials of his intent to carry out violence before being released on the assault charge. Then he went on a killing spree three weeks after his release.  

In court he professed his allegiance to an ancient Egyptian serpent god called Apophis, which he paid tribute to in the form of face tattoos. Jenkins also represented himself during his murder trial and spoke in tongues.  


The husband of Jenkins' last victim, Andrea Kruger, 33, who was murdered while driving home late after working her shift as a waitress, is suing the state of Nebraska for $7.5 million for negligence.

Lauren Victoria Burke is a Washington, D.C.-based political reporter who writes the Crew of 42 blog. She appears regularly on NewsOne Now with Roland Martin on TV One. Follow her on Twitter

Share This Story