Commercial could haunt campaign

When former Michigan Gov. George Romney was trying valiantly to save his American Motors car company, he warned the U.S. auto industry that a foreign car invasion would eventually hit the mainland and the domestic car industry would never be the same.

CEO Romney, of course, was right, and, years later, Democrat Carl Levin, running in his first reelection bid in 1984, exploited the prediction against a formidable GOP challenger named Jack Lousma, the former astronaut.

Levin was probably going to win, anyway, but, when the Levin campaign oppo research team dug up some old video of Lousma telling Japanese businessmen that he owned a Toyota, it was game, set, match: 52% to 47%.

Fast-forward to 2023. Same foreign car phobia/issue. Different U.S. Senate candidate.

According to the Daily Beast, Democrat Hill Harper, who has been all in on the side of striking United Auto Workers members, has reportedly had a close, professional relationship with the same Japanese Toyota folks.

The publication reports that Harper in 2010 was involved in a promotional campaign for the new Lexus, and the next year he did a voiceover TV commercial for a new Lexus model.

Then he co-hosted a Toyota 30-minute quasi-variety program and owned a Toyota Prius from 2005 to 2009.

On top of that, in the 2012 edition of Motor Trend magazine, the Beast reports, Harper posed alongside a Toyota race car with his name on it, and he was decked out in a Toyota racing suit.

A spokesperson for the Harper campaign offered up this: “As an accomplished entertainer and philanthropist, Hill Harper has partnered with dozens of brands, companies, and non-profits over the years.”

Karthik Ganapath adds that his client is the “only unequivocal advocate for working people including striking UAW workers, unlike other candidates who have sided with management in implying that workers are being unreasonable in their demands.”

The statement does not mention one of Harper’s opponents, Elisa Slotkin, in that regard, but the publication reported that that might have been the case.

The Harper campaign, on the car-ownership issue, revealed that, on Sept. 5, Harper purchased a Ford 150 hybrid truck, but it was unclear if he still owned any foreign cars.

Since the quotes to the Beast left a few questions unanswered, MIRS contacted Ganapath, the consultant to Harper.

He was asked if it was true that the candidate had a professional relationship with Toyota.

He first noted that he needed some time and he needed to talk with the candidate. During the course of the interview he reported he had talked to the candidate about that, regarding the Daily Beast article, and then he did confirm the commercials were done and added that Harper had a current contract with General Motors.

And, on the possibility that another Democrat in the primary might run a commercial about that relationship, he noted that what happened 10 years ago was not as important as what was unfolding in the current auto strike, and that residents would understand that, in Harper’s profession, you work for any number of clients.

He also reflected that it was a “willful misreading” of the issue to think that the commercial was more important.

As for the campaign’s notion that residents would understand that entertainers do commercials for a living, pollster Bernie Porn opines: “People don’t look at it that way. People are not understanding of that approach and that argument. I think that if you can get your hands on the ad itself that will be much more difficult to explain …”

Just like the Levin v. Lousma situation, Porn feels “it could be a political liability and probably would be. That is something that would be an attack point, I think.”

It was the Slotkin campaign that forwarded the original Daily Beast article to the media.


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