Published 8:11 AM EDT Sep 13, 2018
National Republicans have started airing TV ads against Democrats using video of the late Sen. John McCain, a move his family signaled they didn't condone.
The National Republican Congressional Committee ad running in Tucson uses McCain's 2016 criticism of former Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who ran against him in that year's Senate race. McCain, who died Aug. 25 after a yearlong battle with brain cancer, also appears in a critical ad in a Michigan House race.
In a statement, a McCain family spokesperson said they hoped for better.
"The McCain family believes it's unfortunate that the senator's image is being weaponized this election season," the statement said. "They hope that there would be more respect, especially so soon after his passing."
Jack Pandol, a spokesman for the NRCC, declined to discuss the ad or the family's disapproval, saying only that the ad speaks for itself.
The ads are likely only the beginning of a new season in which candidates – and those taking sides in politics – try to lay claim to McCain's legend and legacy as it suits their needs.
A New Jersey Democrat running for Congress has also released an ad invoking praise from McCain, which his campaign reportedly said had the family's approval.
Specifics of the ad
The Tucson ad is running in Arizona's 2nd Congressional District, which pits Kirkpatrick against Republican Lea Marquez Peterson, in the state's most contested House race this election cycle.
The NRCC's ad draws from McCain's final campaign in 2016. Kirkpatrick was the Democratic Senate nominee that year.
Looking directly into the camera, McCain says: "Ann Kirkpatrick won't oppose higher taxes. She won't oppose more federal spending, and she won't oppose increased debts that slow economic growth."
A narrator then says McCain's words were a warning to heed again today.
"In 2016, Sen. McCain warned us," the ad says, citing her support for the 2009 economic stimulus passed near the bottom of the Great Recession shortly after then-President Barack Obama took office. "Arizona rejected Kirkpatrick before. It's time to do it again."
Kirkpatrick, who praised McCain after his death, had harsh words over the tactic.
"For them to use footage of Sen. McCain for political purposes without permission while his family and all of Arizona are still grieving is classless and shameful," Kirkpatrick said in a statement. "I can't imagine why Lea Marquez Peterson or her allies want to run their campaign this way."
The Marquez Peterson campaign sidestepped the issue of McCain's approval.
"Lea has the utmost respect for Sen. McCain and his service to Arizona and the country," Chris Scotten said. "We are focused on talking about why Lea is the best choice for the 2nd District because of her experience growing up here, building a business here, and creating jobs here."
Related: Marquez Peterson wins tight race, will face Kirkpatrick
Previous incident in heated race
Earlier, Marquez Peterson cried foul when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ran a political ad against her during McCain's funeral.
That ad targeted Marquez Peterson over her support for the tax cut legislation President Donald Trump signed into law in December.
"Call me naive since it's my first time running for office, but I find it reprehensible for (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi and Washington Democrats to attack me while I sat in North Phoenix Baptist Church honoring the life of Senator McCain," she said in a statement.
"The late Senator's death is a unique chance for all Arizonans to reflect on his legacy of service to country, regardless of political party. It's too bad Ann Kirkpatrick's top supporters chose to make today about negativity instead of unity."
MORE: Dems ran attack ad in Tucson congressional race during McCain's memorial
At the time, the NRCC called the ad "a new low."
"Ann Kirkpatrick should be ashamed of herself for allowing Nancy Pelosi's henchmen to cheapen this day for her benefit," the group said.
The 2nd District is currently represented by Republican Martha McSally, who is running for the state's open Senate seat.
McCain's words used in other ads
In New Jersey, Tom Malinowski, who worked in Obama's State Department, ran an ad that includes footage of McCain praising Malinowski during his Senate confirmation hearing in 2013. Malinowksi, who once worked as an advocate for Human Rights Watch, had earlier supported an anti-torture bill by McCain, who was tortured for more than five years as a prisoner during the Vietnam War.
"This is a contribution Tom made, most of all, in the fight here in Congress to end torture, and I am forever grateful to him for that," McCain says in that ad.
Malinowski is running against U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, R-New Jersey. The Washington Post said Malinowski's campaign had "been in touch with McCain's representatives throughout the campaign and that they expressed no objections to him using the footage or speaking about his work with McCain."
Related: John McCain will best be remembered as GOP 'maverick'
In Michigan, a state whose GOP primary McCain won during his 2000 presidential run, the NRCC used McCain's words again in a negative ad.
That ad shows McCain at a 2014 Senate hearing involving Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat now running against U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, a Republican. McCain torpedoed her nomination at that time as assistant defense secretary for international security affairs.
"Miss Slotkin, you either don't know the truth, or you are not telling the truth," McCain says in that ad. It goes on to note that McCain called her "totally unqualified."