max cleland


You think Joe Walsh’s (R-Illinois) smear of Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) is not indicative of Republican Politics? You think a smear campaign against a decorated war veteran who lost arms & legs in the line of duty would never succeed?

Obviously you’ve never heard the story of Sen. Max van Cleland.

But first there are a few things you should know…

Max van Cleland:

Former Senator from Georgia

United States Army: Years of service 1965–1968. Rank Captain
Unit 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division

Battles/wars: Vietnam War
Battle of Khe Sanh

Awards: Silver Star
Bronze Star, 
Soldier’s Medal
, National Defense Service Medal, 
Vietnam Service Medal, 
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal

Severely wounded in Vietnam: Due to the severity of his injuries, doctors amputated both of Cleland’s legs above the knee and his right forearm. He was 25 years old.

A week before the voting an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed Cleland ahead by five points, 49-44. By Saturday before the race a poll by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the lead had shrunk to 48–45 which was within the poll’s margin of error. On election day Cleland lost to Chambliss 53-46. Some supporters blamed a Chambliss TV ad featuring the likenesses of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, while criticizing Cleland’s votes against homeland security measures. Cleland supporters claimed the ad questioned the senator’s patriotism.

Rick explained that the most successful attack ads don’t go after a candidate’s weaknesses: They take aim at strengths. One of Rick’s most successful ads was an attack against Democratic Senator Max Cleland during his 2002 campaign against Saxby Chambliss.

It showed the face of Cleland – a veteran and a strong candidate on homeland security – buddying up right next to Osama bin Laden. The ad accused him of undermining the War on Terror by voting against several Homeland Security bills.

“The Cleland ad was powerful because it went to his strengths,” Wilson explains. “Everyone assumed Cleland was immune to critiques on national security issues … we found a lot of votes where he’d voted the wrong way … we tested those messages and discovered those messages were very effective against Cleland …” There was an outcry against the ad by some Republican veterans, like John McCain, and it was eventually pulled. But Cleland, who’d started the campaign 22 points ahead, lost to Chambliss. No one on his campaign ever figured out how to counter the ad. Considering Cleland had lost an arm and both his legs to a grenade in Vietnam, they assumed no one would dare to hit him on defense. Rick Wilson dared: “… they didn’t calculate that I have no moral center when it comes to political ads, and I will destroy the innocent and the guilty …” Yes, he does sound like the Punisher of Commercial Land.

The Nasty Realities Of The Political Attack Ad Industry