An ad from Sen. Dan Sullivan’s campaign came under fire over the weekend after several organizations called it anti-Semitic.
The ad shows Sullivan’s challenger, Al Gross, holding a bunch of money, and standing behind a pile of $100 bills. Over Gross' left shoulder is Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, grinning in the shadows.
On Saturday, the Gross campaign tweeted the ad is “disgusting” and plays on anti-Semitic tropes. Gross and Schumer are both Jewish.
Sullivan’s campaign said in a statement that the ad is not about race or religion.
Joel Rubin, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said it took him seconds to realize the ad was anti-Semitic. The ad shows a Jewish candidate in front of a pile of money as a darkened Schumer is depicted behind, appearing to be manipulating, Rubin said.
“It plays into long-standing, centuries-old tropes against Jews as secretly controlling government, politics, the world around us, through money,” Rubin said.
Several organizations came out over the weekend to criticize the ad, saying it plays on anti-Semitic tropes. “These type of accusations have been used to denigrate Jews for decades and have no place in our political discourse,” said a tweet Sunday from the Anti-Defamation League.
“The ad is anti-Semitic, from the creative aspects of it, to the tropes that it puts into people’s faces,” said David Keith, Gross' campaign manager. “It’s anti-Semitic. Dan Sullivan knows that. Dan Sullivan isn’t an idiot, and if he wants to act like an idiot, he can do it and tell people in Alaska that he’s doing so.”
Sullivan, the incumbent Republican, is in a competitive race against Gross, an independent running with the Democratic nomination. The race has seen ample accusations from both sides, much of which has to do with campaign donations and money being spent by outside groups to benefit the campaigns.
The text in the ad reads “Lower 40 Liberals Are Flooding Alaska With Millions.” Indeed, the race has seen a burst of out-of-state money in part because a Gross victory could flip control of the U.S. Senate. Gross is not registered as a Democrat, but said he would caucus with them and has campaigned on flipping the Senate from Republican control.
Gross has raised almost $17 million and has benefitted from millions being spent by national groups, either to his campaign or to benefit his campaign. Sullivan has raised near $10 million has also received financial support from groups supporting Senate Republicans.
Sullivan’s campaign manager, Matt Shuckerow, said that’s what this ad was about. It’s not anti-Semitic, he said.
“This ad had nothing to do with race or religion, but focused on the tens of millions of dollars that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and his Super PACS have funneled into this race to attack Dan Sullivan and aid Al Gross,” Shuckerow said in a statement.
The statement was released in lieu of answering several questions posed by the Daily News, including when the ad went up, what the goal behind the ad was, how much money was spent on the ad and if the campaign worked with any other groups in creating it.
Shuckerow said the ad was phased out on Friday in place of get-out-the-vote ads due to a scheduled advertising plan.
The visual of a candidate holding money has been used against Jewish candidates and has caused controversy in Alaska and elsewhere the past. Anti-Semitism came up in a Senate race in Georgia this summer, when an ad by Sen. David Perdue’s campaign appeared to alter the shape of the nose of challenger Jon Ossoff. The ad also included a photo of Schumer, saying Democrats were trying to buy Georgia’s seat.
Perdue’s campaign removed the ad and said it was an error by an outside vendor, and would be finding a new digital fundraising company.
“Anybody that’s been in politics has seen this kind of stuff before,” Keith said.
“It plays on many tropes of anti-Semitism, and Dan Sullivan knows better. He should explain to his family why it’s OK to run the ad."
Rubin said there is a rise in use of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic imagery in American culture, whether it’s in campaign ads or memes.
“The danger in these types of ads is they begin to normalize hate speech and anti-Semitism,” Rubin said.
Shuckerow said the complaints about the ad amount to an attack on the Sullivan campaign.
“It’s truly unfortunate that it’s come down to this level of attack in the final hours of a campaign," Shuckerow said in the statement.
Rubin said this type of ad is not unique, and it’s concerning that this is viewed as a winning electoral strategy.
“It’s surprising that the campaign is not expressing any regret or remorse,” he said. “It’s surprising they are defending it.”