The National Republican Senatorial Committee fired one of its ad vendors on Thursday after reports emerged linking the firm to a controversial casting call, in which it asked for "hicky" actors to portray West Virginians upset with Gov. Joe Manchin's Senate run.
Originally, the committee denied any connection to the casting call, saying that their vendor, Jamestown Associates, had sent a benign email to a separate agency looking for actors. That agency was to blame for the offending language, having asked for actors (based in Philadelphia) to fit the pejorative descriptions. As to evidence, the NRSC provided reporters, including from The Huffington Post, with an email that Kristen Holcroft, the production manager of Jamestown Associates, sent to the casting agency, backing up the committee's account.
On Thursday morning, however, the defense unraveled. Politico's Mike Allen, who had the original story, reported that it was in fact Jamestown Associates that wrote the casting call. Minutes later, the NRSC put out a statement proclaiming that it had been lied to by the firm and announcing that they were severing ties with the group.
"This morning, the NRSC learned that our vendor Jamestown Associates was responsible for the offensive language surrounding our independent expenditure ad in West Virginia," said NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh. "When originally confronted last week, they flatly denied having anything to do with the unacceptable language and we took them at their word. Upon learning these facts this morning, the NRSC immediately fired Jamestown Associates.
"Because we did not know the truth, we have made incorrect statements over the last eight days, and we regret doing so. The NRSC unequivocally denounces the offensive language that Jamestown Associates used in producing this ad. We apologize to any West Virginia voter who may have been offended by this firm's actions, and we extend our apologies to Kathy Wickline and all those who were misled as a result of Jamestown Associates' actions. The NRSC will have no further dealings, now or ever, with Jamestown Associates, but they were our vendor and we take responsibility for this unfortunate matter."
Having written the first story citing Holcroft's email and reporting (now erroneously) that there were two degrees of separation between the NRSC and the offending casting call, the Huffington Post received a personal apology. Asked definitively, whether the committee proofed, saw, or helped write the casting call, Walsh replied:
"The NRSC IE unit had no knowledge of this. We were misled by Jamestown and they have been immediately fired."
A call to Jamestown Associates for confirmation was not immediately returned, though the firm is expected to put out a statement shortly
With respect to its internal operations, the NRSC's firing of Jamestown Associates will hardly cause a ripple. The firm, a relatively young and decidedly secretive operation, has received only $44,000 in payments from the committee, perhaps explaining why it was so quickly let go (overall, it's been paid just shy of $2 million from Republican and conservative groups this cycle). According to a review of Sunlight Foundation data, the only work that they have done for the NRSC has been in the West Virginia Senate race.
As for the GOP's efforts to elect West Virginia businessman John Raese, the fallout is a bit more complicated. The committee still insists that it had no prior knowledge of the casting call. It's widely expected, moreover, that Jamestown Associates will fall on the sword for the misstep.
But with the election closing and precious few news cycles left, another week of coverage over the "Hicky" controversy is hardly what the GOP needs. At the very least, it gives Manchin's backers more fodder to argue that he's the only authentic West Virginian in the Senate race.
"This issue is about much more than the offensive word the NRSC used about people from West Virginia," said AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale. "It's just the latest example of the disdain they have for working families. Whether it's Raese wanting to eliminate the minimum wage, gut health and safety rules for mining, or paving his Florida mansion's driveway in pink marble during a recession, it's clear they have no concept of what working men and women go through in West Virginia every day."
UPDATE: In a statement that raises some additional questions, Jamestown Associates put out its first remarks on the ad controversy Thursday afternoon that passed responsibility for the offending language to a private, nameless, contractor.
A private communication in an email to the talent agency from an independent contractor we hired to organize production apparently used the term "hicky" to describe the look for the actors needed for a television spot. The talent agency copied this email and sent it to the actors and their agents. This email from the talent agency was subsequently leaked by someone to the press. We apologize for any embarrassment this may have caused to any of the parties and have resigned from the account.