WASHINGTON — South Carolina, with its reputation for down-and-dirty politics, is where the ad war among the presidential candidates has blown wide open, in mostly negative bursts.
A week before the Feb. 20 primary, Republican campaigns and outside supporters were targeting one another, with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and billionaire Donald Trump competing for the most direct hits.
On Twitter, Trump was so mad at Cruz for challenging his conservative credentials that he threatened to sue over the Canada-born senator's eligibility to be president.
Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich vowed to stay positive while Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., were competing for African-American voters, who make up more than 55 percent of Democratic voters in South Carolina.
Cruz got some unwanted attention Friday after he was forced to pull an ad that targeted Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., when media outlets learned that an actress in the ad had been in pornographic movies. In the ad, a "therapy" session has disappointed conservatives talking about how upset they are at voting for a Tea Party candidate who betrayed them in Washington.
"Maybe you should vote for more than just a pretty face next time," says a character, played by soft-porn actress Amy Lindsay as the group greets a newcomer wearing a Rubio T-shirt. Lindsay is from Clear Lake, Texas, and a graduate of University of Texas at Austin.
The embarrassing incident, which the Cruz campaign blamed on the production company for not vetting Lindsay, generated huge media buzz — not exactly the kind the campaign wanted.
"Ads' only value at the presidential level is to generate earned media coverage," said Northern Virginia GOP consultant Tom Edmonds. "Cruz has taken the formula, and it's backfired on him."
Cruz quickly released a 30-second ad meant to divert attention from the porn-star angle: a Clinton look-alike and two male aides destroying a computer server with a baseball bat, a spoof of a scene in the 1999 movie "Office Space."
"Sometimes it's better to run a general election ad in the primary," said Neil Oxman, president of The Campaign Group, a Democratic ad firm that is not involved in the presidential race.
Trump lashed out Friday on Twitter at Cruz for ads and robocalls targeting Trump voters. Trump was also unhappy with a pro-Cruz ad to be released today by the political arm of the conservative anti-tax group Club for Growth. "There's nothing conservative about Donald Trump," says the 30-second ad, for which Club for Growth Action is spending $1.5 million in South Carolina.
Meanwhile, Kasich released two ads in South Carolina that were biographical, about his faith after his parents were killed in an auto accident and about how he would spend his first 100 days as president.
The Democratic candidates both are trying to draw African-American support, crucial in the South Carolina primary.
Clinton has two ads in South Carolina. One, called "Broken," shows the disconnect between black communities and police. The other, "25 years," has former Attorney General Eric Holder, who is African-American, talking about his long friendship with the former secretary of state.
Sanders on Friday released a four-minute online ad featuring the daughter of Eric Garner, a New York man who died after being put into a police chokehold in 2014. Her emotional appeal is for the black community to support Sanders "to get the truth out."
Gilmore bows out of race
Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, whose bid for the Republican presidential nomination was the longest of long shots, suspended his campaign Friday.
"My goal was to focus on the importance of this election as a real turning point, and to emphasize the dangers of continuing on a road that will further undermine America's economy and weaken our national security," Gilmore said in a statement.
— The Los Angeles Times