Political notebook: Hagan files lawsuit against ‘Godless Americans’ ad

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2008

By Mark Wineka and Steve Huffman
Democrat Kay Hagan followed through Thursday on a promise to seek legal action against the “Godless Americans” television advertisement that Republican opponent Elizabeth Dole has been running against her this week.
The Dole camp called the lawsuit frivolous.
Attorneys for Hagan filed an order in Wake County Superior Court showing her intention to pursue a defamation lawsuit alleging Dole and her campaign committee conspired to produce and broadcast “an intentionally defamatory advertisement that injured (Hagan’s) good name and reputation in the community.”
Seeking punitive damages, the intended suit says the broadcast of the 30-second advertisement constitutes defamation and libel.
In writing a cease-and-desist letter to Dole’s campaign, Hagan’s legal team had given the Republican until noon Thursday to stop running the ad.
The commercial speaks of Hagan’s attending a Democratic fundraiser in September held at the Boston home of Woody Kaplan, a member of the Godless Americans Political Action Committee.
The ad shows Ellen Johnson, executive director of the PAC, saying there is no God or Jesus and David Silverman, also with the PAC, telling Bill O’Reilly that the group would favor removing “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and taking “In God We Trust” off U.S. currency.
The commercial ends with a narrator saying, “Godless Americans and Kay Hagan. She hid from cameras. Took Godless money. What did Hagan promise in return?”
A photograph of Hagan is then shown with a voiceover ó it’s Johnson’s voice again ó saying, “There is no God.”
Critics of the ad have especially pointed out that viewers could conclude that it is Hagan saying the final line, not Johnson. Some 40 people invited by the Democratic organization ActBlue, attended the fundraiser, including U.S. Sen. John Kerry.
Hagan came out with a television ad Thursday talking about her Christian faith.
“Elizabeth Dole’s attacks on my Christian faith are offensive,” Hagan said. “She even faked my voice in her TV ad to make you think I don’t believe in God. Well, I believe in God. I taught Sunday school. My faith guides my life, and Senator Dole knows it.”
Dole Communications Director Dan McLagan said in a statement the Dole campaign would file a motion for dismissal. “Kay Hagan knows the Dole campaign ad is accurate, and she is trying to confuse voters until Election Day,” he said.
McLagan said Hagan’s camp filed “a so-called lawsuit.” What was filed in court Thursday is only a motion to file a suit within 20 days, “well after the election,” McLagan said.
“Kay Hagan knew when she went to the fundraiser in Boston that her hosts were the Godless American founders,” McLagan said. “… Kay Hagan took money from the founder of the group and now denies it.”
Dole, the candidate, has defended the ad.
Polls continue to show the N.C. races for president, U.S. Senate and governor as being tight as a tick ó as the clock ticks down to Election Day next Tuesday.
The closest race ó and the one flying a bit under the radar compared to the other two ó could be the gubernatorial race of Republican Pat McCrory, Democrat Bev Perdue and Libertarian Mike Munger.
In the results of seven different polls taken since Oct. 18, McCrory and Perdue were shown to be tied three times, including the Associated Press/GfK poll released Wednesday in which each candidate was favored by 44 percent of those surveyed.
Other ties occurred in a WSOC-TV poll and a Civitas/TelOpinion survey, both released Oct. 22.
McCrory led a Rasmussen poll from last Friday at 51-47 percent, and a Survey USA poll from Oct. 21 at 46-43 percent.
But Perdue led an Oct. 21 Public Policy Polling survey 48-44 percent and an Oct. 18 Research 2000 poll 48-43 percent.
Two poll results reported Thursday had different leaders in the U.S. Senate race between Dole and Hagan.
The Dole camp reported that a recent Mason-Dixon/WRAL-TV poll showed its candidate holding a lead of 46-42 percent over Hagan, who the poll said is strongest in the Triad and northeastern counties.
The poll conducted for the Raleigh television station was conducted between last Wednesday and Friday and surveyed 800 likely voters statewide.
But the latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey has Hagan with a 6-point advantage over Dole at 52-46 percent.
The WRAL-TV poll is the first one in recent weeks to show Dole with a lead.
In the results of six other polls since Oct. 20, not counting the Rasmussen, Hagan held leads over Dole ranging from 1 to 7 percentage points.
As for the presidential race, a Thursday CNN/Time poll showed Democrat Barack Obama with a 52-46 percent lead over Republican John McCain in North Carolina.
In 10 other polls reported by various groups since Oct. 21, Obama has led North Carolina in six of the surveys; McCain, two; and there were two ties.
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McCrory will be barnstorming the Piedmont by helicopter Saturday, and making a stop in Salisbury as part of the tour.
McCrory will be landing at his alma mater, Catawba College, at 10:15 a.m. Saturday. He’ll be speaking at Omwake-Dearborn Chapel.
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Robert Hamilton, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Middle District of North Carolina, will oversee the district’s handling of complaints of election fraud and voting rights abuses.
The appointment was made by U.S. Attorney Anna Mills Wagoner.