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Webb flier on Miller adds fire to campaign

June 8, 2006 12:50 am

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Critics of a Democratic Senate contender Harris Miller caricature in a flier from the campaign of party rival Jim Webb say the portrayal leaves an anti-Semitic impression. webbjamesh2.jpg.jpg

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By EDIE GROSS

The flier put out by Jim Webb's campaign for U.S. Senate described his opponent as a corporate lobbyist who made money by sending American jobs overseas.

But what caught Dan Smolen's attention was the cartoon that accompanied the text: That of a man with a hook nose and money spilling from his pockets.

It was a caricature of Harris Miller, Webb's opponent in Tuesday's Democratic primary who happens to be Jewish.

The image made Smolen, who is Jewish and Stafford County's Democratic chairman, uncomfortable.

"I don't think whoever did the cartoon caricature meant this as an ethnic slur," he said, "but the effect of it was very troubling."

Since seeing the image on the Internet last weekend, Smolen has talked with officials from the Webb campaign, who have assured him that there was no anti-Semitic intent and that the images will not be used again.

But the cartoon and some of the text are still being discussed on various Web sites tracking the campaign.

Folks posting messages on not LarrySabato.typepad.com, a politically minded blog where the image can be seen, have argued for days over whether the flier is a bold political move or a bad decision.

Shaun Kenney, chairman of the Spotsylvania Republican Party, accused Webb of "jewbaiting" on his blog, shaunkenney.com.

Webb spokeswoman Kristian Denny-Todd said the flier was printed for an event in Southwest Virginia about two weeks ago. A campaign supporter offered to draw the cartoon, which was not intended to offend anyone, she said.

The cartoon features Webb as a sort of super-hero fighting to keep jobs in America. The text on the flier refers to Miller, a former lobbyist for the IT industry, as the "anti-Christ of outsourcing."

Webb didn't invent that label, Denny-Todd said. Instead, it comes from a column written in January by a senior editor for InformationWeek, a magazine for IT professionals.

"The bottom line was in response to the attacks we've endured by Harris Miller, this was a supporter's way to counteract those that was a little fresh, not just words on paper," she said. "It was never meant to target a specific group."

Scholars of political literature had mixed reactions upon seeing the flier.

"That doesn't look so good. There's no question to me that's replete with anti-Semitic stereotypes," said Mark Feldstein, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University. "I'm not someone who readily cries anti-Semitism, but I think it's hard to look at this and not see a number of anti-Semitic stereotypes plugged into this ad, from the hook nose to the 'antichrist' to the money-grubbing character."

Bruce Newman, a professor of marketing at DePaul University and editor of the Journal of Political Marketing, said it reminded him of 1930s German propaganda, where the Jewish character was subtly made out to be the thieving villain.

"It very much crosses the line," said Newman, who is Jewish. "I'm speaking with my professional hat on now. It's a modern-day caricature of the quote-unquote villain, the one who's out to make life difficult and hurt people in the town. I've seen literature from those days and this offends me quite a bit."

University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato said the flier wasn't really any worse than other campaign literature he'd seen in hotly contested races.

"I think that's a real stretch to call that anti-Semitic, and I'm not usually inclined to give candidates the benefit of the doubt," Sabato said.

A spokeswoman for Miller said her team originally thought the flier was a prank not produced by the Webb campaign. They're bothered by it, Taylor West said, but they're focused more on Tuesday's primary. The winner will face Republican Sen. George Allen in November.

"There's a role in calling attention to differences, but this cartoon is so outlandish. It ought to be an embarrassment to their campaign. It's so far beyond what any Virginia candidate has had lobbed at them," she said. "Despite the very personal attacks, we're going to focus on our message."

The Webb campaign insists the flier was not widely distributed but only available for the one event.

Smolen said he felt better knowing that.

"I'm completely satisfied with the Webb campaign's recognition that this in fact, had it gone out, could've been a damaging situation and that in the future they're going to make sure this doesn't happen again," Smolen said. "I don't think it was a deliberate smear."

To reach EDIE GROSS:540/374-5428
Email: egross@freelancestar.com





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