Nancy Regan forces Webb Senate campaign to pull ad

Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb has a television ad ready to air featuring praise from his late boss Ronald Reagan — and Nancy Reagan called on him Friday to cancel it.

Webb, who was Reagan’s Navy secretary before Webb switched to the Democratic Party, uses the ultimate GOP icon to send a sentimental message to conservatives and moderates courted by his opponent, Sen. George Allen (news, bio, voting record). The ad is scheduled to begin airing next week.

But a three-paragraph letter from the former first lady’s office said the use of footage of Reagan, who died in 2004, is “neither authorized nor appropriate.”

The 30-second ad opens with video of Reagan praising Webb during a commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1985, when Reagan was president and Webb, a Navy grad, was an assistant secretary of defense.

“James’ gallantry as a Marine in Vietnam won him the Navy Cross and other decorations,” Reagan says on the video.

Webb was campaigning in southwestern Virginia on Friday and was not immediately available for comment on the criticism. His campaign spokeswoman, Kristian Denny Todd, said the ad was fair.

“At this time, we are not changing our plans,” Denny Todd said.

The first lady’s letter, sent from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation in Simi Valley, Calif., said used of his name and image implies endorsement of the candidate.

“At the direction of Mrs. Reagan, please refrain from the use of her husband’s name, video footage, photograph, likeness, and/or quotes in any further campaign materials, including television advertisements,” it concluded.

In a telephone interview, Edwin Meese, attorney general under Reagan, called use of the footage “improper, unethical and very possibly illegal. … For him to use video of Ronald Reagan to appear in a campaign ad to favor him is fraud.”

Webb became Navy secretary in 1987 but resigned the following year, refusing to reduce the Navy fleet after congressional budget cuts. More recently, he left the GOP over President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and other issues. He won a contentious Senate primary in June.

Allen’s campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, called the ads “disingenuous and terribly hypocritical” and cited Webb’s 1988 resignation, saying he “quit on Ronald Reagan after he did not get his way as Navy secretary.”

Allen, seeking a second term, began airing his own biographical ads last month while Webb scrambled to raise money. Allen’s campaign had more than $6.6 million on hand at the start of July compared with $424,245 for Webb.


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