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Campaign 'trick?' Political ad touting 'North Carolina values' filmed out of state

Posted September 28, 2022 2:31 p.m. EDT

In a political ad for North Carolina Congressional candidate Bo Hines, the Republican walks through farmland in Indiana owned by his grandfather, Rich Weisman.

Republican congressional candidate Bo Hines stands with his grandfather surrounded by farmland.

"A hard day’s work," Hines' grandfather, Rich Weisman, tells a camera in a new campaign ad. "North Carolinians cherish it. So does Bo Hines. We farmed these acres together, picking stones, pulling stumps and learning the lessons of the land.”

While the Hines ad tries to appeal to voters who hold what his grandpa called “North Carolina values,” the ad fails to mention where it was filmed: Indiana.

That detail has become the latest piece of ammunition for critics of the political newcomer in a campaign subplot focused on who has the strongest ties to North Carolina’s competitive 13th Congressional District—Hines or his Democratic opponent, Wiley Nickel.

The district encompasses parts of the capital city and its suburbs, as well as some more agricultural areas known for their production of tobacco, soy and sweet potatoes.

Nickel’s campaign says Hines’ ad misleads voters about Hines’ work in the state. "Bo Hines trying to trick North Carolina voters by running a political ad with a family member in Indiana to try and prove that he's right for North Carolina is right on brand for the guy who moved to this district to run for office,” Abby May, Nickel’s campaign manager, said in an email.

The Hines campaign rejects the suggestion that it’s trying to trick anyone.

“As Bo has discussed throughout the district since the beginning of his campaign, both of his parents grew up on farms in Indiana,” Rob Burgess, a senior advisor to Hines, said in a statement. “This ad was filmed on farmland that has been in Bo’s family for over 100 years.”

Hines, who hasn’t held elected office, has been dogged by questions about his history in the community he wants to serve. When he jumped into the political arena last year, he campaigned for a congressional seat in the Winston-Salem area and shifted districts multiple times as election maps changed through a monthslong redistricting process.

He changed his address from a condo in downtown Winston-Salem to a rental property in Fuquay-Varina in April. And during the GOP primary, opponents accused Hines of district-shopping.

Hines, meanwhile, has criticized Nickel for living outside the 13th district. Nickel, who has represented Wake County in the state Senate for several years, lives a few miles outside the newly redrawn district in a property he has owned for at least two years.

U.S. House candidates aren’t required to live within a district to run for its seat.

Summers on the farm

Burgess said the farm ad shows how Hines relates to voters in the district. “Throughout his entire life, Bo’s summers have been spent on this farm and it has helped shape his work ethic and appreciation for what our farmers face on a daily basis,” he said.

The 30-second ad is mostly narrated by Weisman, Hines’ grandfather. It shows them standing in a field of short green crops, walking down a gravel road next to rows of corn, and sitting in front of a ranch-style fence.

“North Carolinians deserve a leader who puts in the hours like we do,” Weisman says in the ad. “Fighting inflation, creating jobs, standing up to Joe Biden, and protecting North Carolina values. It’s a dirty job, and the man for that job is my grandson, Bo Hines.”

Amanda Sturgill, author of the book "Detecting Deception: Tools to Fight Fake News," said she mistakenly thought the farm in the ad was in North Carolina. The ad isn’t necessarily inaccurate, she said, because Hines’ grandfather doesn’t explicitly claim to be in North Carolina.

“If he did spend time on the farm, then I guess he might have done the tasks described,” Sturgill, who is also an Elon University journalism professor, said in an email. She also wondered if viewers might find some of the ad’s claims odd.

“Putting in the ‘hours like we do’ is a bit of an unfair comparison,” she said, quoting Hines’ grandfather. “You are supposed to assume pulling stumps and fighting inflation are similar tasks and that doesn’t really make sense.”

Not 'Grandpagate'

Doug Heye, a North Carolinian and former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, doesn’t see the ad location as an explosive secret.

"‘A-ha, he helped his grandfather on a farm in Indiana’ isn't really a huge gotcha,” Heye said. “If Dems think this is some kind of ‘Grandpagate’ that will turn the election, they're in a weak position.”

J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, could foresee the ad rubbing some voters the wrong way.

“Would it have been that hard to find a local tobacco farm where Hines could have said something like ‘As someone who grew up on a farm, I'll work hard for our farm economy here in eastern North Carolina?’” Coleman said.

It’s common for candidates to use stock images in campaign ads, Coleman said, but the practice occasionally gets some candidates into trouble. For instance, this summer, New Jersey Democrats jumped on a Republican congressional candidate for an ad about inflation that showed images of milk and bread not sold in New Jersey.

“To me, this ad from Hines falls into a similar category,” Coleman said. “Democrats are already criticizing his tenuous connections to the district, and this could potentially give them more material to make that case.”

On the other hand, Coleman noted that the district is home to lots of population growth. And the location omission may not matter to voters whose own roots are shallow.

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