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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Axelrod’s Hazy Memory of 2008

David Axelrod’s zeal to help President Obama win reelection has clouded his memory. In depicting the 2012 GOP primary as unusually nasty and harmful to the party’s eventual nominee, Obama’s senior campaign adviser falsely claimed “we mentioned Hillary Clinton twice in our advertising” during the 2008 campaign. With little effort, we found 10 such ads — five times what Axelrod claimed.

In a March 6 interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, Axelrod expressed shock at this year’s GOP primary nastiness and recalled with fondness (and fallacy) the gentleness of the 2008 Democratic nominating process.

Axelrod, March 6: I’ve never actually seen a race quite like this. You know, I was thinking, I heard you talking with Savannah [Guthrie], Brian, about our race four years ago. Do you know that entire primary campaign I think we mentioned Hillary Clinton twice in our advertising.

Just twice? The entire primary? Not true. The Brookings Institution did a report on the 2008 presidential campaign that found 61 percent of the prominent TV ads that ran during the Democratic primaries and caucuses were negative — double the 2004 rate. “Both parties featured open races with a large number of candidates, and the result was negativity levels that were above the historic averages,” Brookings reported.

To help jog Axelrod’s memory, we dug up some of the TV ads, radio ads and mailers that we wrote about during the long, hard-fought 2008 Democratic nomination.

Barack and Hillary, Revisited

A TV ad titled “Pennies” started off by lamenting “another negative ad from Hillary Clinton,” and then went on to attack Clinton’s proposal for a three-month gasoline tax holiday as “an election-year gimmick”:

In “Old Politics,” the Obama campaign criticized Clinton for accepting “millions from PACs and lobbyists” — “more than any candidate in either party”:

A TV ad called “Afford” attacked Clinton for proposing a health care plan that “forces everyone to buy insurance”:

Then there was “Debates,” a TV ad that criticized Clinton for practicing the “same old politics of phony charges and false attacks,” before launching into an attack on Clinton’s health plan:

We also found these TV ads that others wrote about:

  • Hometown” attacked Clinton for taking “the low road” and engaging in the “same old Washington politics.”
  • Represent” also attacked Clinton for negative attacks, saying the “same old Washington politics won’t lower the price of gas or help our struggling economy.”
  • Reason” listed newspaper endorsements Obama received in Pennsylvania and lifted some critical comments about Clinton — including one that said she would “further the deep divisiveness” in the U.S.

And that’s just the TV ads. There were also mailers and radio ads.

The Obama campaign sent mailers to Ohio voters falsely quoting Clinton as saying NAFTA was “a boon” to the U.S. economy.

There was also a mailer that (again) criticized Clinton’s health care plan, including its mandate that everyone buy insurance or pay a penalty. The individual mandate was also the subject of a radio ad in Iowa that said: “Senators Edwards and Clinton favor mandates which the Daily Iowan says would, quote, ‘force those who cannot afford health insurance to buy it, punishing those who don’t fall in line.’ ”

So, that’s at least 10 TV, radio and direct mail pieces that mentioned Clinton — five times more than what Axelrod claimed. This isn’t a good sign for the 2012 general election.

— Eugene Kiely