Ed Gillespie, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and the current GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate in Virginia, ran a campaign advertisement during Monday Night Football touting support for the name of Washington’s football team and criticizing his opponent for not taking a stand on the issue.
The ad references recent legislation introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and endorsed by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that would seek to revoke the NFL’s tax-exempt status if it continues to support Washington’s use of “Redskins,” which leading Native American organizations call a “dictionary-defined slur.” The team plays its home games in Maryland but is based in Virginia.
“I’ll oppose the anti-Redskins bill,” Gillespie says at the end of the ad, which is also criticizes his opponent, Sen. Mark Warner (D), for not saying whether he’d support or oppose the legislation.
“Why won’t Warner fight the anti-Redskins bill?” the ad’s narrator asks. “Why won’t he answer the question?”
It’s not necessarily shocking that Gillespie would defend the team’s use of the name, given that it is based in Virginia and remains popular there. But targeting Warner specifically on this issue is an odd decision. Warner has not signed onto Cantwell’s legislation, and the Virginia senator was one of just three Senate Democrats not to put his name on a letter that called on the NFL to change the name. Unlike the others — fellow Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine (D) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) — he did not come out against the name afterward or write his own letter to the NFL. That puts Warner in the minority of Senate members, after Sen. John McCain (R) also spoke out against the name.
Both candidates have connections to the team. Warner has received $5,200 in campaign contributions from Dan Snyder, the team’s owner. Gillespie, meanwhile, has been endorsed by former Virginia Sen. George Allen (R), who as ThinkProgress reported in January is among a cadre of prominent Washington communications consultants the team has hired to help defend its name from opposition.
The ad takes an even odder turn near the end, when just seconds after criticizing his opponent for not talking about the team’s name in a campaign-produced ad about the team’s name, Gillespie pledges that he will turn his attention to “creating jobs, raising take-home pay, and making America safer,” while letting Washington “handle what to call their team.”
After Warner decided not to sign onto the letter from Senate Democrats, an aide explained the decision in quite similar terms.
“Senator Warner believes that it’s not for Congress to dictate what the league does,” a statement from Warner’s office said then. “He believes that over time, team names will change to reflect the times, as happened with the Washington Wizards.”
The Change The Mascot campaign, led by the National Congress of American Indians and Oneida Indian Nation, responded to Gillespie’s ad on Tuesday.
“The last time a Virginia Republican senate candidate actively promoted a racial slur, voters rightly rejected him,” campaign spokesperson Joel Barkin said in a statement. “As with former Sen. George Allen, Ed Gillespie will likely lose the election promoting a dictionary-defined slur, but perhaps there will be a place for him on Dan Snyder’s payroll when it is all over.”
Allen’s 2006 re-election bid was derailed when the senator called an opposing staffer “macaca,” a racial slur.