WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 — It sounded like a fun way to expand participation in this year’s presidential election, at least for those opposed to re-electing President Bush. The left-leaning Internet group MoveOn.org sponsored a contest, “Bush in 30 Seconds,” inviting people to submit television advertisements about Mr. Bush, with the best to be determined by a vote of visitors to the site.
But two of more than 1,500 submissions have outraged Republicans and leading Jewish groups for comparing Mr. Bush, in profile and policy, to Hitler.
“This is the worst and most vile form of political hate speech,” Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in one of several statements he issued. He urged the nine Democrats running for president to repudiate the advertisements.
Wes Boyd, a MoveOn.org founder, fired back, saying Republicans were “deliberately and maliciously” misleading the public by asserting that MoveOn.org had sponsored the advertisements. “None of these was our ad,” Mr. Boyd said in a statement. “Nor did their appearance constitute endorsement or sponsorship by MoveOn.org Voter Fund.”
On Monday, MoveOn.org said more than 100,000 visitors to the site had selected 15 finalists, none of them the Hitler advertisements. A panel of celebrities and political experts has been asked to pick a winner, which will be televised.
Mr. Boyd conceded that the advertisements were “in poor taste,” and said he “deeply regretted” that they had “slipped through.”
Mr. Gillespie and Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center criticized MoveOn.org for posting advertisements that showed Hitler morphing into Mr. Bush. One asserted, “What were war crimes in 1945 is foreign policy in 2003.”
“Their lack of discretion cheapens the level of political discourse in America.” said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League