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Nebraska GOP Senate Candidate Jon Bruning Hires Man Behind Infamous 'Willie Horton' Ad

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WASHINGTON -- Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, a Republican candidate looking to challenge Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) in 2012, has hired the man behind one of history's most infamous attack ads to oversee his campaign's media strategy.

Bruning has replaced Dresner Wickers and Associates, a San Francisco firm, with the D.C.-based McCarthy-Hennings Media, as the website Nebraska Watchdog first reported. The new group is helmed by longtime ad man Larry McCarthy.

McCarthy's resume includes the 1988 Willie Horton spot, an attack ad that weakened Michael Dukakis' presidential run against George H.W. Bush.

The ad featured the mugshot of Willie Horton, an African-American man convicted of murder who committed a rape and assault while on a prison furlough. The spot, as CNN has noted, "played to racial fears and portrayed Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis as soft on crime."

More recently, McCarthy crafted ads like "Chinese Professor" and "Mosque" that drew similar criticism.

Bruning recently came under fire when he compared welfare recipients to raccoons scavenging for food.

"The raccoons, they're not stupid, they're going to do the easy way if we make it easy for them -- just like welfare recipients all across America," he said in a video recorded by American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic independent expenditure group. "If we don't send them to work, they're going to take the easy way out."

Soon after the video of his remarks was released, Bruning's campaign released an apology for his word choice. However, Democrats are arguing that the campaign's latest hire isn't going to help convince voters that Bruning is truly sorry.

"What better way to reform your image as a politician who makes racially insensitive comments than to hire the ad firm that makes racially insensitive ads?" said Rodell Mollineau, president of American Bridge 21st Century.

According to Jane Kleeb, the executive director of the progressive group Bold Nebraska, the McCarthy's hiring is a conscious move by Bruning to address his recent missteps.

"He knows he's in trouble," said Kleeb, "and he knows that negative ads work."

Despite his campaign's troubles, Bruning currently leads his primary opponents in the polls by a fairly wide margin. A poll by Bold Nebraska found that 29 percent of Republicans favor the attorney general, while 12 percent favor State Treasurer Don Stenberg and 8 percent support State Sen. Deb Fischer.

The Bruning campaign did not return a request for comment Thursday.

Watch the iconic Willie Horton ad:

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that a primary poll of Republican voters was conducted by Nebraska Watchdog. It was a Bold Nebraska poll.

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