The Virginia governor’s race is winding down ugly with a new ad by a group called Latino Victory that depicts a white man attempting to run down an African American, Hispanic, and Muslim child with his pickup truck. The truck bears an Ed Gillespie campaign bumper sticker and flies the Confederate battle flag. The sequence, fortunately, turns out to be a nightmare experienced by one of the children. “Is this what Donald Trump and Ed Gillespie mean by the American dream?” the Narrator inquires.

Gillespie condemns the race-baiting ad

Gillespie, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, denounced the ad, suggesting that his Democratic opponent, Ralph Northam is getting desperate.

The governor’s race in Virginia has become scrambled in recent weeks, with some polls showing Gillespie ahead and some showing Northam ahead. Even though the ad was not produced or run with the permission and knowledge of the Northam campaign, the Democratic candidate had yet to condemn it.

Ugly ads sometimes work and sometimes don’t

Outrageous campaign ads sometimes work. For example, the notorious Daisy Ad run during the 1964 presidential campaign that suggested that Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate, would start a nuclear war if he were elected president. Another ad, run during the 2000 campaign that linked Republican candidate George W. Bush to the high profile racially motivated murder of an African American man, did not prevent his election.

The Virginia truck ad, a modern campaign version of a pre-Jaws TV movie directed by Stephen Spielberg called “Duel,” could work by motivating minority voters to go to the polls and vote for Northam. The ad plays on fears of racist whites murdering minority children, even though such incidents are rare.

On the other hand, the ad has every potential of backfiring.

The commercial is so ugly and outrageous that it could taint Northam and cause white Virginia voters to come out in droves.

What if the ad works?

If the truck ad works, Northam will become governor of a state where much of the population will be convinced that he hates them. The ad is the equivalent of Hillary Clinton calling Trump voters “deplorables.” Such campaign tactics are not designed to unite the electorate but rather to frighten some of the voters and enrage the other part.

However, if Northam wins, other campaigns are going to use similar ads, depicting not just opposing candidates but his or her voters as murderous racists. The tactic will be employed by both sides in 2018 and 2020 in political contests that will increasingly be seen as civil wars fought (we pray) without guns.