Obama Wades Into Maryland Senate Primary

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Wow. We haven’t had the chance to even SEE the Working for Us ad attacking Chris Van Hollen on gun control yet, but it’s brought a ferocious response from the White House – and not the one Donna Edwards would want.

Politico dedicates an entire early morning email today to highlighting what it called Obama’s “unprecedented and forceful” move.

The White House is wading into one of the hardest-fought Democratic primaries in the country – to tell one side to stop invoking the president on its behalf.

In an unprecedented and forceful move, President Barack Obama’s administration is slamming a new gun control-themed ad from a super PAC backing Rep. Donna Edwards for Senate in Maryland, calling it “misleading” and demanding it be pulled down.

The White House always avoids hitting Democrats, even in races where Obama has endorsed an opposing candidate. But the ad, written to hit a nerve, hit the wrong nerve in the White House, where gun control is the most emotional issue from the Oval Office on down. Political director David Simas moved immediately on Tuesday to get the ad hitting Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Edwards’ opponent, taken off the air, acting on behalf of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, who’s been leading the administration’s gun control push.

The primary is April 26, and the White House had stayed out of the marquee Democratic showdown until now. While Obama has handed out endorsements in several other Senate primaries this year, he has not picked sides in Maryland.
The new ad , from a super PAC called Working For US, features a clip of Obama tearing up in January as he remembered the children killed at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School and talked about new gun control measures. The ad then connects that moment to Van Hollen’s support of the DISCLOSE Act, 2010 legislation aimed at forcing more campaign finance transparency. A compromise version of the bill included a carve-out for the National Rifle Association, to try and draw more support from moderates and conservatives.

Obama supported the DISCLOSE Act. But that’s not the White House’s main problem with the Working for Us PAC ad, which implies presidential support for Edwards ahead of a primary in which Obama has explicitly not endorsed a candidate.

“Simas reached out to the Working For Us PAC and asked them to immediately take down the ad and stop using it going forward,” White House deputy press secretary Jennifer Friedman said. “He made clear that the use of the president’s image and statement in this context were misleading.”

There’s no reason to believe Obama saw the ad himself before the White House put its foot down.

Steve Rosenthal, the PAC’s treasurer, didn’t return requests for comment about the ad or its plans about keeping it running. The White House wouldn’t comment on what the PAC told Simas about its plans in response to his complaint.

Simas wasn’t the only one complaining about the ad. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also called it “dishonest” and “shameful,” and argued it “should be taken down.”

“The bill had nothing to do with gun violence. It was supported by Democratic leaders, including myself, President Obama, Leader Pelosi, and strong majorities of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus,” Hoyer said. “Both Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen have lifetime ‘F’-ratings from the NRA.”

Although Politico has posted the ad, as of 7:30 Wednesday morning, the link to the video isn’t working. I’ll keep checking, and if it gets fixed I’ll post it.

In response to the White House’s demand and Steny Hoyer’s ire, Edwards is in full retreat, distancing herself from the Working for Us ad while in the same breath continuing to make the same claims raised in the ad.

The Edwards campaign distanced itself from the super PAC ad Tuesday night, though the congresswoman has made the same core argument several times during the race – and continued to this week, including at a debate in Silver Spring, Md. on Monday night.

“We had nothing to do with the ad and would not have used the president’s image, but Donna would never have cut a deal with the NRA like Congressman Van Hollen did,” said Edwards campaign spokesman Ben Gerdes.

Edwards’ campaign telegraphed its interest in pushing this message to outside groups last month, publishing a post on its website about what it would like to see on television in the final weeks of the campaign. “We know that African American voters need to see and hear about Donna’s fight against the National Rifle Association, and the politicians who protect them, to end the scourge of gun violence plaguing our communities,” the post read.

The powerful negative Obama response and the universal chorus against the Working for Us ad make clear that Edwards overreached badly on this issue. Having Steny Hoyer and Barack Obama publicly condemn your centerpiece argument is not a good place to be less than two weeks before the primary, and with early voting beginning in less than 24 hours.

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