ISIS Makes Cameos in Campaign Ads Across the Country

It's politically risky, but ISIS is increasingly a focus of debate.

ByABC News
September 12, 2014, 10:50 AM
A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa, Syria in this June 29, 2014, file photo.
A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa, Syria in this June 29, 2014, file photo.
Reuters, FILE

— -- In a montage that includes militant jihadists wielding automatic weapons, exploding buildings, and even an apparent firing squad, the most arresting image lasts only a moment, but it is unmistakable: a masked terrorist brandishing a knife.

New Mexico Senate candidate Allen Weh made headlines last month when his campaign included the image -– a still from the ISIS video of James Foley’s beheading –- in a 60-second campaign spot.

Including an image from one of the year’s most high-profile murders in a campaign ad is a risky move politically -– especially when that image comes from a particularly gory piece of extremist propaganda. But addressing the threat of ISIS is becoming almost unavoidable as national security issues continue to dominate the news cycle.

"That video is rough, but that's the unvarnished truth," Weh told ABC News. "The whole message was very simple: failed leadership in Washington."

ISIS is "absolutely going to be on the front of people's minds" this election cycle, he added.

And slowly but surely, other candidates have been following Weh's lead. Now at least 5 races have ads featuring or alluding to ISIS, according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG).

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who's fighting to hold on to his seat against Democratic challenger Allison Lundergan Grimes, also invoked the ISIS threat. In an ad released last week, the McConnell campaign ties Grimes to Obama's no-strategy-yet gaffe.

"These are serious times," a narrator intones, as footage of an ISIS militant wielding an automatic weapon flashes on the screen. Later, a three-second clip shows Obama saying, "We don't have a strategy yet."

"When so many in Washington can't do the job, shouldn't Kentucky have a senator who can? Obama needs Alison Grimes. Kentucky needs Mitch McConnell," the ad says.

The National Republican Congressional Committee also unveiled an ISIS-themed ad portraying incumbent Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., as soft on terror.

"America is under a new threat of terrorism, yet Nolan voted to cut funds from the fight against al Qaeda," the narrator says, as the screen shows men in Middle Eastern garb.

"Rick Nolan. Dangerously Liberal. Wrong for Minnesota," the ad concludes.

In Michigan, an ad released by the U.S. Senate campaign of Democratic Rep. Gary Peters doesn't specifically reference terrorism –- but it does mention an upcoming "vote" -- presumably a vote to authorize military action against extremists in the Middle East.

"When it comes time to cast a vote, the decision to put men and women in harm's way is one of the toughest ones you can make, and I will always think of the people I served with, their sacrifices," Peters, a former Navy Reservist Lieutenant Colonel, says in the ad.

In perhaps the most hard-hitting spot of all, one candidate seeks to tie his opponent not to ineffective policy -- but to the terrorists themselves. David Perdue, a Republican battling Democrat Michelle Nunn for Georgia's open U.S. Senate seat, recently dusted off an old ad linking Nunn to militants.

"In her campaign plan, Michelle Nunn admits she's too liberal, and her foundation gave money to organizations linked to terrorists," the ad says.

Nunn formerly served as the CEO of the Point of Lights foundation, which a memo penned by her own campaign staff identifies as a potential risk to her candidacy because of its dealings with "problematic entities," including one Islamic charity -- a risk Nunn has tried to mitigate.)

This trend is a departure from precedent: Midterm elections generally revolve around pocketbook issues like jobs and the economy. But with ISIS continuing to pose a threat to U.S. interests at home and abroad, expect it to pop up in more campaign ads in the two month sprint to Election Day.