By BERRY CRAIG
Mike Pape is one Republican candidate who has evidently sworn off dog whistle politics.
The congressional hopeful from Kentucky has deep-sixed the coded words and is pandering, flat-out, to racism and xenophobia.
His inaugural TV ad shows three men, presumably “Mexicans,” in grimy t-shirts that say “Stop Trump,” “Stop Ted Cruz” and “Stop Pape.” The trio, speaking in English with phony accents, cuts through a “border fence” at night.
According to the commercial, they aim to prevent a President Donald Trump from building his border wall and keep a President Ted Cruz from abolishing “Obamacare.” The ad’s message: the “illegals” are sneaking into America to thwart Pape, too, because he backs Trump and Cruz’s plans.
At the end of the ad, the candidate comes on and says, “I’m Mike Pape and I approve this message because no one will stop me from standing up for you.”
The video ad.
Pape has been district director for First District Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, for several years. He tossed his hat in the ring when his boss decided to retire after 11 terms.
Sprawling over western and south central Kentucky, the First District is arguably the most conservative section of the Red State Bluegrass State.
Pape obviously figures his ad will play well with the faithful. The First District is overwhelmingly white and tea party territory.
The commercial has brewed a storm of controversy, albeit beyond the district.
The liberal Think Progress website described the commercial as “filled with ugly stereotypes about Latino immigrants, complete with huge Mario Bros.-like mustaches, fake accents, and subtitles for the actors, even though they’re speaking in English for the vast majority of the ad.”
Veteran Kentucky journalist Al Cross also condemned the commercial. “He’s just going to the bottom of the barrel, appealing to people’s worst instincts, using crass stereotypes and, really, appealing to the ignorance that begets fear and ultimately hate,” he told John Null, a reporter at WKMS, Murray State University’s National Public Radio affiliate.
Even, so Cross, director of the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, suggested the ad will probably work.
“He’s appealing to people’s basest instincts and he is trying to hook himself to the Trump bandwagon without abandoning Cruz, who is popular in the district,” Null quoted Cross.
In a like vein, the liberal Mother Jones magazine called the spot “the worst ad of the 2016 campaign.” For similar reasons, it might also be the best ad of the 2016 campaign.
“Pape’s prospective district gave a combined 75 percent of the vote to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz [in Kentucky’s March presidential caucus], and Pape seems to have taken that message to heart.”
No doubt Pape relishes the liberal criticism, figuring it will make him stand taller with GOP voters, more than a few of whom drive cars and trucks emblazoned with “I don’t believe the liberal media” bumper stickers.
Pape, from Hopkinsville, is one of four Republicans seeking to succeed Whitfield.
The GOP primary winner will face Democrat Sam Gaskins, also of Hopkinsville, in the fall. Gaskins has denounced the ad.
“I found the ad a slap in the face of the Latino men and women I served with in the military and also the migrant workers that have come here legally to work the fields for Kentucky farmers,” said the Marine and Army veteran.
“There are small business owners in Hopkinsville who are Mexican and also deserve someone to serve them as well. That ad is not who we are as a commonwealth. We all stand together when push comes to shove.”
On his Facebook page, Gaskins calls on Pape to withdraw the ad.
Gaskins also urged the other GOP candidates, James Comer of Tompkinsville, Jason Batts of Clinton and Miles Caughey, Jr., of Herndon to urge Pape to pull the ad.
I wouldn’t bet the farm they will. They’re uber-conservatives like Pape, Trump and Cruz.
“The racial divide in this country has been preyed upon long enough,” Gaskins’ Facebook posting also says. “We have to stand up together, or we will fall divided. This doesn’t show the country or the world who we are as Kentuckians. Kentucky’s motto is “United we stand, Divided we fall.”
In any event, the neo-Know Nothing Pape may win the nomination and even the election. But more than a few district dwellers are repelled by his in-your-face bigotry.
“Alas, this will help him win,” said Ken Wolf of Murray, a retired Murray State history professor. “We have met the enemy and he is us–or at least many of us!”
“Wake up America– the naysayers are preaching hate to keep your mind off stealing you blind,” said Jeff Wiggins of Reidland, president of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and United Steelworkers Local 9447 in Calvert City. “They play the hate shell game to keep us blinded from how they are destroying our freedoms and rights.”
“It’s hard to get past my choking on anger at this throwback of humanity,” said Holly Erwin, a retiree from Sedalia.
“And to think, in terms of our U.S. congressman, I thought we had nowhere to go but up,” said Tom Waldrop, who owns a real estate business in Mayfield. “Now I see it is truly possible to elect someone with even fewer western Kentucky sensibilities.”
“Typical Republican strategy playing to xenophobic fears,” said Jeannie Embry of Paducah, who works for a computer firm. “What’s important is what he is actually going to do for the people of the First District—which is absolutely nothing. Otherwise, he’d be advertising his ideas, rather than demonizing a group of people.”
“I thought the ad was a satire about Pape until I saw him approve the message,” said Daniel Hurt of Grand Rivers, a Murray State student and chair of the Livingston County Democratic party.
“I guess what surprises me the most about the ad is not the message, considering he is running in the modern Republican party, but the fact that he’s chosen this issue for his first TV spot.”
“As a Democrat, I certainly have different opinions on the issues with all four Republican candidates. But it always seems to work out better when candidates focus on the positives and not on spreading fear and hostility.”