Behind the Scenes of Elizabeth Dole’s “Godless Ad” Against Kay Hagan

By now, we know Kay Hagan — a Christian — overcame anti-atheist bigotry from her North Carolina Senate opponent Elizabeth Dole.

Rob Christensen of The Charlotte Observer has a behind-the-scenes look at how that ad came to be.

In a nutshell, the Dole campaign never intended to create the ad because they never thought Hagan would attend a fundraiser hosted by two prominent atheists.

… Certainly not after the Dole campaign had sent out a news release attacking Hagan for even scheduling such an event.

Even then, Dole’s campaign thought it would run such an ad only as a last resort. And then it would be the mildest version of the ad.

The ad was created, but it didn’t air immediately.

“It’s not the kind of thing that would be your first choice to mold your campaign around,” [ad producer Fred] Davis said.

As Dole continued to trail Hagan in the polls, the Dole campaign began to seriously consider using the Boston fundraiser in an ad.

“We had a D-Day date — the week before the election,” Davis said.

On D-Day, with Dole’s internal tracking polls showing her 8 points behind Hagan, the decision was made to hastily produce what would become known as the “godless ad.” There was a conference call with eight to 10 senior Dole staffers, in which they argued about what the ad should say. Dole declined to discuss the ad for this story.

I would love to know what the “more potent” ads looked like…

But the point we need to remember is this: The ad was a calculated smear attempt against Hagan. The Dole campaign didn’t actually care that Hagan met with atheists. They weren’t offended and they certainly didn’t find it immoral or wrong. They just saw it as an easy way to manipulate voters into thinking she was a bad representative for them.

Thankfully, it backfired.

As a result, Dole can now spend all her excess free time thinking about the vile woman she’s become.

  • timplausible

    Hagan did not overcome anti-atheist bigotry. She joined in the anti-atheist bigotry to defend herself. She essentially defended herself by making the claim “I’m a Christian, and my opponent is lying to you when she says I’m not as bigoted as she is.”

    I’m still glad Dole did not win, because she initiated the bigotry, but I’m not pleased with Hagan either.

  • pip

    But the point we need to remember is this: The ad was a calculated smear attempt against Hagan. The Dole campaign didn’t actually care that Hagan met with atheists. They weren’t offended and they certainly didn’t find it immoral or wrong. They just saw it as an easy way to manipulate voters into thinking she was a bad representative for them.

    I don’t agree, Hemant. The article says

    But Davis insists the commercial was not designed to question Hagan’s faith. He said it was about her decision to attend the fundraiser.

    and

    The Dole campaign issued a new release in August saying Hagan’s plans to attend the fundraiser showed she was “a Trojan horse for a long list of wacky left-wing outside groups.”

    I didn’t see anything in the article that says they didn’t see Hagan’s decision as immoral or wrong. The ad itself suggests that by going to a fundraiser in which atheists participated Hagan would be in their pocket and would work to promote their godless ways.

    Hagan defended herself by characterizing the ad as slanderous, meaning that what was said was both false and had harmed her reputation. By saying this she tacitly acknowledged that her religious beliefs were relevant to the election, and that she was harmed by the suggestion that she was an atheist. She should have come out and said: ‘The ad is false in its insinuation that I’m an atheist, but even if I were – what difference would it make?’ She didn’t do that. At no point did she argue that atheism does not make one unfit to hold public office. So Hagan is no hero for the atheist cause.

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    So there was a more vile ad produced? Shame on this producer, although it’s just a payday for him either way. But still… what kind of world/nation is this? Has elections become all about winning and not caring about the people you represent? If that’s the case, then I really do want to see change happen.

  • MH

    I imagine Elizabeth Dole won’t loose any sleep over producing such an ad. She’ll only be upset that she didn’t win.

  • Jeff Satterley

    I’m curious. I know on an older post about this race, Richard Wade posted a letter he received from the Hagan campaign, responding to his criticism about her response to Dole’s attack ad. While its obvious Hagan herself didn’t write the response, and the answers were the standard, non-committal, mostly meaningless language that always comes from these types of campaigns, it was good to at least see some response.

    I’m sure a number of atheists sent messages to criticize the Dole campaign about the ad, and I wonder, did anyone ever got a response? I’ve been really annoyed (although not surprised) that Dole has never had to respond to any criticism about the ad’s blatant bigotry. I’d be really interested to hear how the campaign tried to explain itself. Unfortunately, it never really had to.

  • TXatheist

    Jeff, no response yet from Dole…

  • Erp

    I should point out it is slanderous even if
    everyone thought atheists are fine. Hagan is a church elder and so strongly implying she was an atheist means she lacks one of the necessary qualifications for that position (unless she is in a really liberal church such as the Unitarians). A similar situation might be an ad implying that a Jewish candidate active in an orthodox synagogue had been baptized and avowed faith in Jesus as the messiah. Now Dole’s campaign certainly wanted to imply that Hagan was an evil atheist and not just a hypocritical Christian. Hagan, however, might have been defending from either the atheist=evil or atheist=hypocritical slur.


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