Topeka When Republican Rep. Jim Ryun used an image of Osama bin Laden in a television ad questioning whether Democratic challenger Nancy Boyda supports American troops abroad, he also sparked questions about his own campaign.
Ryun said his advertisement was a response to Boyda's accusations that Ryun worked to prevent a crackdown on fraudulent in-surance sales on military bases. If she questioned his commitment to the troops, he argued, she faced a bigger issue: her participation in protests against the Iraqi war before it began last year.
But in a race that isn't viewed nationally as highly competitive, using bin Laden's image is especially harsh -- the equivalent of using a nuclear bomb to clear out a colony of prairie dogs.
Creating a stir
The tactic could signal that Ryun is worried, or that he wants to prevent Boyda's challenge from becoming serious, or that he's irritated with her criticism. The ad certainly created a stir.
"It's logical that no one supports Osama bin Laden," said Katie Kidwell, a 20-year-old political science student at Washburn University. "To see his face flashed up there -- I was just kind of in disbelief."
Ryun's ad, which began airing on TV stations in Topeka and Pittsburg on Sept. 18, notes Boyda helped last year to organize anti-war rallies -- weekly events in Johnson County. She also participated in a Washington rally sponsored by ANSWER Coalition, a national group referring to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and other nations as "occupation."
The ad flashes bin Laden's picture in describing ANSWER as "opposed to the hunt" in Afghanistan for the al-Qaida leader. The ad also references the endorsement Boyda received from the Council for a Livable World, an anti-war group that argues the federal defense budget is bloated by unnecessary weapons systems and should be cut.
Included is television news footage of Boyda on the bus to ANSWER's rally in Washington in January 2003. That image is powerful, visual evidence of Boyda's activities, said Nathan Gonzales, political editor for the Rothenberg Political Report in Washington.
"You don't often get that," he said.
Ryun isn't the only candidate to use bin Laden's image in an ad. Last week, Washington Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, denounced an attack ad in which her Republican challenger questioned her commitment to fighting terrorism. In 2002 in Georgia, Democratic Sen. Max Cleland lost his race for re-election after his opponent raised similar questions with an ad featuring both bin Laden and former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
But Ryun is a four-term congressman, not a challenger seeking ground against an incumbent. Both the Rothenberg report and the Cook Political Report in Washington say the race could become competitive -- but isn't yet.
"It could have been they were thinking, 'We need to put the challenger away now,"' Gonzales said.
Naturally, Boyda has a different explanation: The race is tight.
Ryun started his ad less than a week after the Boyda campaign began broadcasting a commercial suggesting Ryun tried to block efforts to protect soldiers from questionable insurance sales tactics.
Boyda's campaign cites letters to the Pentagon in 2003 and 2004, signed by Ryun and two Democratic congressmen, challenging proposed rules changes. Boyda also noted that questions about soldiers being sold high-cost, low-benefit life insurance policies have surfaced in national news reports and a recent congressional hearing.
When Ryun sponsored a proposal last week to deal with the issue, Boyda took credit for pushing him into action.
"Clearly, Jim has seen what we have seen," Boyda said. "He's a man who's about to lose his job."