Head of North Carolina GOP Talks About Ad Flap

Linda Daves, chairwoman of the North Carolina Republican Party, talks with Melissa Block about how the party is poised to begin airing a controversial TV ad linking two gubernatorial candidates with Sen. Barack Obama and, by extension, Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The North Carolina Republican Party is poised to begin airing a TV ad that links two Democratic candidates for governor with Barack Obama, and by extension, with Obama's former minister Jeremiah Wright. The ad includes video of Reverend Wright, and is already posted on the North Carolina GOP's Web site.

(Soundbite of TV ad)

Unidentified Woman: For 20 years, Barack Obama sat in his pew listening to his pastor.

Reverend JEREMIAH WRIGHT (Pastor, Trinity United Church of Chicago): And then wants us to sing "God bless America?" No, no, no, not God bless America, God (bleep) America. That's…

Unidentified Woman: Now, Bev Purdue and Richard Moore endorse Barack Obama. They should know better. He's just too extreme for North Carolina.

BLOCK: In an e-mail to the North Carolina Republican chair Linda Daves, John McCain calls the ad offensive and urges her to withdraw it. Linda Daves joins us from her office in Raleigh.

Ms. Daves, this ad hasn't started running yet on TV? Are you going to go forward with your plans to put it on the air?

Ms. LINDA DAVES (Chairwoman, North Carolina Republican Party): Yes, the ad will run early next week.

BLOCK: I wanted to talk to you about John McCain's reaction here. Let's listen to a little bit of tape from him in Louisiana today.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. And that party, that Republican Party - there's no room for this kind of activity.

BLOCK: Linda Daves, have you had a conversation with John McCain about this?

Ms. DAVES: Oh, no, I have not. I have spoken with his campaign staff, however, and - but I did get an e-mail letter from them on his behalf.

BLOCK: And they're calling this ad offensive. Why not pull it? Why go ahead with it?

Ms. DAVES: Well, I don't know why they're calling it offensive. I'm calling it truthful. I'm calling it an issue on the North Carolina level that needs to be addressed concerning some serious judgment issues, concerning the two Democrat candidates for governor. Does it make some people mad? Probably does. But you know, most difficult issues and questions do stir up a lot of sentiment in people. But it is not offensive. It is truthful.

BLOCK: This doesn't seem like a stretch to you, Ms. Daves, that Barack Obama's former pastor in Chicago, Illinois, should somehow be relevant to two people running in North Carolina for the governorship?

Ms. DAVES: It is very, very relevant because back to the subject of good judgment, they have endorsed someone who associates himself with radical people. That someone has then distanced himself, but they are - they do not have the courage to step up because North Carolina voters have a right to know what - you endorsed him, this is all - this information's flying around and does that mean you approve of this?

BLOCK: Is it possible that the Democratic candidates maybe think there are more relevant issues in North Carolina like jobs and the economy?

Ms. DAVES: Absolutely. And the North Carolina Republican Party has got an entire dossier on that, and we will be putting that record out also before very long for - in reference to the Democrat-run government here. Absolutely, positively.

BLOCK: Ms. Daves, the Democratic Party in North Carolina is calling this old Southern racial politics. Are you worried that this could backfire, that it will be perceived as bigoted, and that it will be very divisive, and the Republican Party in North Carolina will pay the price?

Ms. DAVES: No, I am not worried about that. The decision to run this ad has been made very thoughtfully, very carefully. And I think it is the proper, correct thing to do whether it's Obama or Clinton. And I think there are -based on the response I'm getting - I went to lunch, and I was down to 60 emails, and I came back 45 minutes later and I had 843 with 90 percent of them saying thank you so much. I mean, out so loud.

BLOCK: Ms. Daves, if John McCain were to pick up the phone and call you directly and say, Linda, I want you to pull this ad, it's hurting my campaign, it's hurting the party. Would you do it?

Ms. DAVES: Number one, the ad is going to be running early next week. This ad is not hurting John McCain because it is about the North Carolina Republican Party. But this is, in my opinion, an important freedom of speech issue demanding two candidates to step up to the plate and address the people of North Carolina and answer these questions.

BLOCK: So if John McCain were to call you and directly say, I do not want you to run this ad, it's hurting my campaign, it's hurting the Republican Party in where I want to take it. What would you tell him? Would you pull the ad?

Ms. DAVIS: I would say, Senator McCain, we think the world of you here, and we're going to do everything we can, but we also have to look out for the people of North Carolina in the state races, and we need - we're going to run the ad.

BLOCK: So there's nothing he could tell you that would give into otherwise?

Ms. DAVES: That is correct. I'm going to run the ad.

BLOCK: All right. Linda Daves, thanks very much.

Ms. DAVES: Thank you. Bye-bye.

BLOCK: Linda Daves is the chairwoman of the North Carolina Republican Party. NPR contacted the campaigns of the two Democratic candidates for governor in North Carolina. We asked if they have repudiated Reverend Jeremiah Wright's comments. A spokesman for Bev Purdue told us the candidate has repeatedly said she thinks Reverend Wright's statements are quote, "wrong." No word yet from the campaign of Richard Moore.

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