NPR logo New Anti-Obama Ad -- Swift Boats Revisited?

American Issues Project

New Anti-Obama Ad — Swift Boats Revisited?

A previously unknown conservative 501c4 group, the American Issues Project, announced Thursday that it's running this ad through Aug. 29 in Michigan and Ohio.

The ad ties Barack Obama to Bill Ayers, who was a member of the Weather Underground in the 1960s, a fugitive from the FBI in the 1970s, and is now a neighbor of Obama's in Hyde Park.

To skittish Democrats, this looks and sounds a lot like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad that undermined Democratic nominee John Kerry's credibility as a Vietnam War hero. The first Swift Boat ad ran at the start of the Democratic convention four years ago; this year's convention starts Monday. That ad was financed by a few wealthy conservatives. Some of AIP's donors will have to be identified, but with the group's tax status, most of them can remain anonymous.

The Obama campaign seems to be thinking Swift Boat too. Unlike Kerry, who was disastrously slow to react, it had a six-page rebuttal out to reporters before the ad hit the airwaves.

Books, or at least chapters of books, have been written about Obama and Ayers, and we're not going to truth-squad the ad here.

Christian Pinkston, a spokesman for the American Issues Project, said there are questions about Obama's ties to Ayers — "enough information about this relationship that justified more attention."

It's also worth noting that Obama hadn't turned 10 years old when Ayers was a radical militant, and by the time the two men met, Ayers had become, if not totally reconstructed, a respected scholar in juvenile justice and education. To the extent that they connected with each other, it seems to have been over those issues and local politics.

The Obama-Ayers issue flared up during the Democratic primaries but then faded.

Now, Pinkston says AIP has 167 pages of documentation for the ad. When I asked why they picked this topic for the ad, he said, "This is the first one."

The American Issues Project website lists two board members. The Obama campaign pointed out that one of them, Ed Failor Jr., last year was a paid consultant to John McCain's presidential primary campaign.

It seems a sure bet that we'll be revisiting this ad. How will it impact Obama? Could it blow back on McCain?

Who paid for it? The limited disclosure required from AIP has yet to appear.

Then there's the ripple effect: Both candidates said this spring that they didn't want independent groups Swiftboating the other guy. Then they started hitting each other directly.

Now, independent groups may decide to take the gloves off — or stuff them with metal.