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Election: ‘Godless Americans’ ad ignites debate in Senate race

By Mark Wineka and Steve Huffman
mwineka@salisburypost.com
An angry Kay Hagan said last week she was “appalled at the vile tactics” behind the “Godless American” television ad Republican rival Elizabeth Dole began running against last week.
Hagan called it politics of the worst kind and “so unbecoming of a woman like Elizabeth Dole.”
But Dole said Saturday, at the end of her Elizabus Tour, said she wasn’t questioning Hagan’s faith ó only her judgment in accepting money from the Godless Americans Political Action Committee.
“How dare she attack my Christian faith,” Hagan told reporters last week, as she was traveling to the General Baptist Convention in Fayetteville.
She held a press conference at First Presbyterian Church, where she is an elder, has taught Sunday school and has accompanied youth mission trips.
The Hagan campaign said it will seek a cease-and-desist order against the ad, which links Hagan to supporters of the Godless Americans Political Action Committee.
“Is Elizabeth Dole that desperate to keep this Senate seat?” Hagan asked.
A spokesman for the Dole campaign said everything about the ad is accurate and the senator has no intention of pulling it from the airwaves. On Saturday, however, the Dole campaign aired a revised ad that makes clear it is questioning Hagan’s judgment in meeting with people associated with the group.
Hagan attended a Democratic fundraiser in September held in the Boston home of author Wendy Kaminer and her husband, Woody Kaplan, who belongs to the advisory board of the Godless Americans PAC.
The couple also are advisory board members of the Secular Coalition for America.
The fundraiser was organized by the Democratic group ActBlue. Hagan said some 40 people attended the fundraiser, including U.S. Sen. John Kerry and an ambassador.
Hagan said she had never heard of the Godless American PAC until the Dole camp issued a press release about it in August.
The Dole campaign issued a press release three weeks before the fundraiser saying who the hosts of the event were. It also claims the Hagan staff took great pains to modify the original invitation to the fundraiser so the hosts’ names would not be mentioned.
The N.C. Republican Party has made references to Hagan’s appearance at the fundraiser in two direct-mail pieces.
Dole spokesman Dan McLagan said Hagan snuck into the Boston home through a side door to avoid cameras outside. He said footage showing Hagan at the event was shot by representatives of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
McLagan said he couldn’t believe Hagan attended the event, especially after the Republicans put out word of her plans.
“I was absolutely floored that she went,” McLagan said. “It’s just a colossal error in judgment. It’s campaign malpractice, almost.”
The initial 30-second ad from the Dole campaign starts with an announcer saying “A leader of the Godless Americans PAC recently held a secret fundraiser in Kay Hagan’s honor.”
It goes on to show clips of Ellen Johnson, executive director of Godless Americans PAC, saying, “There is no god to rely on” and, in a different interview, “There was no Jesus.’
The ad continues with David Silverman of the Godless Americans PAC saying the group would be for taking “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance and removing “In God We Trust” from money.
The ad concludes with the narrator saying, “Godless Americans and Kay Hagan. She hid from cameras. Took Godless money. What did Hagan promise in return?”
Then it cuts back to Johnson’s voice saying, “There is no God.”
Hagan was particularly upset that the the voiceover was shown with her photograph, as if she was saying, “There is no god.”
“That’s not my voice, and I definitely do not share their beliefs,” Hagan said.
McLagan, the Dole spokesman, said he finds it odd that the Hagan camp is “hanging their hat” on the “There is no God” voiceover.
He said it’s “obvious” the voice is not intended to be Hagan’s, noting that Johnson had spoken and been shown earlier in the ad.
“She doesn’t look anything like Hagan,” McLagan said.
He laughed when asked if the Dole camp was considering pulling the ad as a result of Hagan’s complaints and threats of a court order.
“It happens every campaign,” McLagan said. “Someone makes a great deal of noise” in response to an ad.
He said he’d never known of a campaign ad being pulled because of a cease-and-desist order. “It’s virtually impossible to do for a campaign ad,” McLagan said.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has put out a longer version (2 minutes, 42 seconds) of the “Godless Americans” ad that’s been showing on Web sites. Dole is responsible for the 30-second television ad which debuted last week and the amended version.
Hagan said Dole should be ashamed of herself. “What she is doing right now is slandering me and my personal character,” Hagan said.
Most polls have shown Hagan with a slim lead in the U.S. Senate race against Dole, a Salisbury native, and Libertarian Christopher Cole.
Hagan said her family always attends her church’s 11 p.m. Christmas Eve service, then spends Christmas morning making breakfast at a residential home for elderly adults with cerebral palsy. It allows the staff to have Christmas at home with their families, she said.

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