(CNSNews.com) - The latest political battle of the airwaves involves racial hatred and "hate crimes," with the ads appearing less than two weeks before the November 7 election.
Both the NAACP and a new group calling itself "Americans Against Hate" are buying air time in battleground states like Wisconsin and Michigan to attack presidential candidates George W Bush and Al Gore, respectively.
The NAACP ad essentially criticizes Bush for opposing a Texas hate crime bill as governor, while Americans Against Hate take Gore to task for his close association with, and praise for, controversial black New York activist Al Sharpton.
Some activist groups want a national hate crime law that would allow the federal government to prosecute violent crimes that target victims on the basis of race or sexual orientation.
While Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and the Clinton-Gore Administration have been trying to attach Conyers's hate crimes legislation to an appropriations bill in Congress, the NAACP is launching ads attacking Bush for opposing a state-level hate crimes bill as governor of Texas.
The NAACP ad features Renee Mullins, the daughter of James Byrd, Jr., the Texas man who was killed in 1998 in a racially motivated act of violence. Mullins claims that when she met with Gov. Bush to ask for his support of a Texas hate crime bill, Bush "just told me no."
According to Andrea Pringle, the communications director for the lobbying arm of the NAACP, Bush did elaborate on his position. "One of the problems he (Bush) had with the bill was the sexual orientation piece of it," said Pringle, referring to the bill's attempt to specially designate violent crimes aimed at homosexuals.
Pringle said the NAACP is running the ad in an effort to get Bush to commit himself on the issue. "As highlighted in the [presidential] debates, Bush doesn't necessarily have a position on [hate crime legislation]. He doesn't feel the need for strong hate crime legislation. We'd like to encourage him to do so, which is what we are suggesting in our ad," she said.
The Americans Against Hate ad, which is running at the same time as the NAACP ad, attacks Gore for his past dealings with Sharpton. The ad shows footage of Gore defending a private meeting he had with Sharpton in February, and urging his audience to "not be so quick to completely dismiss what [Sharpton] has to say."
American Against Hate alleges that Sharpton, among other things, once praised Adolph Hitler as "a great man." The ad also shows video footage of Sharpton urging college students to kill police officers.
"We're trying to get these ads out between now and the election to spread the word that the hate in this country is not on the right but on the left," said Stephen Marks, a spokesman for the group. According to Marks, the group is mainly funded by a few big dollar contributors from Tennessee.
"Unlike Bill Clinton, who properly denounced Sister Souljah and other racists in 1992, Al Gore has gone in the other direction and embraced people like Al Sharpton," said Marks.
"It's mind-boggling to me that George W. Bush was properly criticized and had to back away from the Bob Jones [University appearance in 1999], and nobody has taken Gore to task, neither the Bush campaign nor the Republican party," said Marks. "Can you imagine if George W. Bush...praised David Duke and said we should listen to what he has to say and respect him? All hell would break loose," he said.
Marks was critical of the NAACP ad. "The difference is their ad is a complete lie. To blame George W. Bush is ludicrous, whereas there is a serious connection between Al Gore and this guy (Sharpton) who is responsible for people being killed and riots and racial polarization," said Marks.
The NAACP ad also drew criticism from two groups representing minority interests.
Richard Tafel, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a homosexual Republican group that has endorsed hate crime legislation, said he was "repulsed" by the NAACP ad.
Tafel admitted his group is divided over whether hate crime legislation is necessary, but said "this ad campaign, the way it's being used, is doing more to turn our people off of the legislation, because it's clear that what Democrats are doing now is just [demagoguery] on the issue," said Tafel. "And they're using a federal law to imply that if you don't support that particular piece of legislation, you somehow support hate, and that's dishonest."
Tafel said the goal of the NAACP ad is to get out the black vote on Election Day. "The Democratic Party is trying to gin up their base, and the only way they know how to do that, particularly with minority groups [like] the gay community, is to scare people, which is very sad," said Tafel. "There's no hopeful, positive message about Al Gore right now," he said.
The NAACP lists hate crimes as one of its top ten reasons to vote this year. In another get-out-the-vote effort, the NAACP in Huntsville, Alabama is reportedly offering a $3 "bounty" to anyone who signs up a new voter.
Tara Setmayer, a policy analyst for the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education, said the NAACP ad is typical of a group representing the liberal civil rights establishment. The Coalition is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that focuses on social issues concerning the inner city.
Setmayer defended Governor Bush, saying justice was served in the Byrd case in Texas. "What governor Bush did was made sure the criminal justice system in his state applied the fullest extent of the law to make sure that two people would be put to death and the other person would serve their life in prison," said Setmayer. "Death is the ultimate punishment," she said.
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt's (D-Mo.) office declined to comment on either ad. The Democratic National Committee did not return calls seeking comment.