Updated at 3:15 p.m. to reflect Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s announcement that she will support the Iran pact.
Washington – With Sen. Richard Blumenthal emerging as a key swing vote on the Iran nuclear deal, Connecticut has become an advertising battleground for those at war over the agreement.
Since Iran, Germany, the United States and four other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council signed the agreement in July, two groups with ties to former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the state running ads condemning the deal. Those groups are Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, which includes Lieberman as a member of its advisory board, and American Security Initiative which counts the former senator among its board members.
There will be an attempt to counter that view this week when another group, called J Street, begins to run television ads in the state that support the Iran agreement. J Street calls itself “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who want Israel to be secure, democratic and the national home of the Jewish people.”
“We’re hoping to broadly convey the extent of support for the Iran deal, especially among American Jews,” said J Street spokeswoman Jessica Rosenblum.
In Connecticut, the main target of these groups is Blumenthal, whom they hope to sway by influencing public opinion for or against the deal.
“This Iran deal is dangerous for America, for Israel and for the world,” said Lieberman in a statement on the Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran site. “Iran has violated over 20 international agreements, is the number one sponsor of terrorism in the world, and has been working to acquire nuclear weapons for years. Unfortunately, this agreement won’t stop them.”
Meanwhile, Rosenblum hopes her ad campaign counters Lieberman’s message. She said J Street ads will run in five states besides Connecticut this week.
“We’ve shifted ad buys as [lawmakers] around the country have announced their support for the deal,” she said.
The number of undecided lawmakers is shrinking – in Connecticut only Blumenthal is still on the fence. With Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, announcing her support for the deal Tuesday, all other members of the Connecticut congressional delegation say they back the agreement.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name of the agreement, requires Iran to halt its nuclear program in return for a removal of economic sanctions that have, among other things, hurt its ability to sell oil. Opponents say Iran will continue to pursue its nuclear ambitions and use the money the end of sanctions would bring to strengthen its conventional arsenal and support terrorist groups.
Congress is required to vote on the agreement by mid-September.
With nearly all Republicans opposed to the deal, President Obama is counting on Democrats to block a resolution of disapproval of the agreement in the Senate. But the White House is still short of the support it needs to sustain a filibuster in that chamber.
If a resolution of disapproval is passed by the House and Senate, Obama will need Democrats like Blumenthal to vote to sustain his veto.
Rosenblum said J Street is running ads to both influence the undecided and support lawmakers who have come out in support of the deal.
The ads her organization will begin running in Connecticut on Wednesday will focus on what Rosenblum calls “validators,” a roll call of diplomats, military and security experts and scientists who back the nuclear agreement.
Urging Congress to reject ‘a bad deal’
While defenders of the Iran agreement gear up an advertising campaign in Connecticut, groups opposed to the Iran deal have not purchased any more air time.
Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, a group affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has run dozens of spots in Connecticut since the end of June. They have appeared on WTIC, a Fox-affiliated station in Hartford; WSFB, a CBS affiliate in Hartford; and WVIT, an NBC affiliate in New Britain.
The group’s ads feature an Iranian political prisoner and former U.S. Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff David Deptula, urging Congress to “reject a bad deal.” The ads say Iran is the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism.
Steve Rabb, a senior manager at WTIC, said he believes the ads are effective and that they will run again in Connecticut, perhaps when Congress reconvenes in September.
“I was surprised that they pulled back,” Rabb said.
Patrick Dorton, spokesman for Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, said he would “not discuss strategy” or say whether the group will resume advertising on Connecticut television stations.
He also said Connecticut residents will continue to be able to watch the group’s ads on cable television, part of a “$20 million plus” national campaign.
Connecticut cable viewers will also be able to watch a commercial sponsored by August Wolf, a Republican businessman from Greenwich, that focuses on whether Blumenthal will support the Iran agreement.
“We can’t trust the Iranian terrorist regime with nuclear weapons,” Wolf says in the ad.
Blumenthal spokesman Josh Zembik said Monday the senator remains undecided.
American Security Initiative, which has spent more than $110,000 on ads in the state that bash the Iran agreement, has also gone dark in Connecticut. The group did not return calls seeking comment.