Rep. Donna F. Edwards, right, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen
Rep. Donna F. Edwards, right, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Baltimore Sun)

Democratic Senate candidate Chris Van Hollen began airing a new television ad on Thursday that points to the decision by the White House this week to weigh into the high-profile contest, and a flap over the gun lobby.

"An attack ad from the campaign for Donna Edwards: So untrue, so outrageous, that President Obama said 'pull it down,'" the narrator in the new Van Hollen ad says, according to a copy reviewed by The Sun. "Donna Edwards: Will she say anything to win an election?"

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At issue is a previous ad aired by a super PAC called Working for US -- not the Edwards campaign -- that attacked Van Hollen over his 2010 effort to pass a campaign finance law. That bill was changed to exempt the National Rifle Association and other groups in an effort to bring more Democrats on board.

In an exceedingly unusual move, White House political director David Simas reached out to the super PAC this week and asked it to take down the attack ad, calling the use of a video clip featuring the Obama discussing the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre "misleading."

"Simas reached out to the Working For Us PAC and asked them to immediately take down the ad and stop using it going forward," a White House spokeswoman said in a statement. "He made clear that the use of the president's image and statement in this context were misleading."

With its new ad, Van Hollen is reading a deeper meaning into that statement, arguing that the administration's decision to jump into the high-profile race for retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's seat at all demonstrates that it has taken an issue with the underlying message of the ad -- not just the use of Obama's image.

Super PACs, by law, may not coordinate with the campaigns they support; and the White House statement specifically dealt with the PAC, not Edwards' campaign. The text used in the new Van Hollen ad describes the group as an "Edwards Super PAC," but the narrator describes it as "the campaign for Donna Edwards."

Taken in context -- including a line at the end that questions whether Edwards would say anything to get elected -- the message Van Hollen hopes to convey is clear: That Edwards is responsible.

Bridgett Frey, a Van Hollen spokeswoman, said, on the contrary, it is clear that the new ad is targeted at the super PAC.

"Our ad is abundantly clear from the opening moments that we are talking about a super PAC supporting Congresswoman Edwards -- which is part of the campaign to elect her," Frey said in a statement. "It's unfortunate that same super PAC -- which we now know is funded by Emily's List and a hedge fund manager -- wasn't truthful when they made this ad, which is still on the air."

The distinction between a campaign and a PAC supporting a candidate is part of the reason why House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who also weighed into the issue Thursday, walked a careful line by criticizing the super PAC and not an ad from Edwards herself that makes essentially the same argument.

The super PAC, which received funding from Emily's List and well-known Democratic donor Donald Sussman, said it would take Obama's image out of the ad, but that it stood by the rest of it.

Asked Thursday how much responsibility Edwards herself bears for the super PAC ad, Van Hollen said that "the ad simply reflected the misinformation that Congresswoman Edwards has been spreading from day one on this issue" and he pointed to a section on her campaign website he said was signaling talking points to the super PAC.

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