James Foley's killer in GOP Senate ad: Smart move?

An ad by long-shot Senate candidate Allen Weh of New Mexico shows the knife-wielding killer of American journalist James Foley. Democrats are crying foul, but the ad may be smart politics.

Steven Senne/AP/File
In this May 27, 2011, file photo shows American Journalist James Foley, of Rochester, N.H., as he poses for a photo in Boston.

The knife-wielding man in the black hood appears for only a moment. But the image is instantly recognizable: the killer of American journalist James Foley.

Allen Weh, the Republican mounting a long-shot campaign against Sen. Tom Udall (D) of New Mexico, has sparked outrage by using that screen shot in his latest Web ad. Senator Udall’s campaign called the ad offensive – especially in light of requests by Mr. Foley’s family for the public not to share the video of his execution.

“James Foley’s death is a tragedy, and to use his killer’s horrific image for personal gain in a campaign ad is reprehensible and appalling,” said Daniel Sena, Udall’s campaign manager, in a statement.

“If Allen Weh wants to talk about the issues with New Mexico voters, he should find a way to do it that is respectful and substantive. Using James Foley’s horrific and tragic death for shock value is offensive to Mr. Foley’s family, New Mexico voters, and the rest of our country.”

But sometimes, one man’s outrage is another man’s smart political maneuver.

Suddenly Mr. Weh, an ex-Marine and former chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party, is getting national media coverage. The ad is only on the Web and had only about 20,000 views by midafternoon Tuesday, but Weh has put himself on the map.

Remember Joni Ernst in Iowa? Her ad during the primaries where she talks about castrating hogs also grabbed attention. She shot up in the polls, won the GOP primary, and now has a good shot at taking over the seat occupied by retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.  

Of course, Weh’s ad isn’t whimsical. Its subject matter is dead serious. His campaign notes that Foley himself doesn’t appear in the ad, and argues that the ad’s larger point is central to the fall campaign.

"Out of respect for the Foley family, no picture of James Foley was used. Tom Udall’s feigned outrage over the inclusion of a now familiar image of this Jihadi terrorist, who is clearly the face of the evil that threatens our nation. Senator Udall’s comments about our diplomacy being 'good' reflect his naiveté and inexperience in matters of national security," Weh campaign manager Diego Espinoza said in a written statement to ABC News.

The ad juxtaposes images of jihadi violence with shots of President Obama on vacation. Mr. Obama faced withering criticism, including from liberals, for sticking to his just-concluded vacation – and his many rounds of golf – while the world burned. Republicans are trying to lash Democrats to Obama in their effort to take control of the Senate.

“To change Washington you must change your senator,” Weh’s ad concludes.

In Democratic-leaning New Mexico, Weh has a steep climb. The latest poll by the Albuquerque Journal, released Aug. 18, showed Udall well ahead among likely voters, 53 percent to 35 percent. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report calls the race “solid Democrat.”

But even if Weh fails, he’s boosted his profile. Four years ago, Rep. Alan Grayson (D) of Florida made waves when he ran an ad against GOP challenger Daniel Webster by calling him “Taliban Dan.”

Mr. Grayson’s ad backfired, analysts said, and he lost the election. But his reputation as a liberal firebrand lived on. Two years later, Grayson ran again in a new Florida district. Today he is once again Congressman Grayson. 

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