Lilly Ledbetter: Obama’s Newest Ad Star

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At some point, the Goodyear Tire company is going to wish it had simply paid Lilly Ledbetter like a man. Instead, the company managed to turn the Alabama grandmother into the Democrats’ poster child for the evils of a GOP-dominated Supreme Court and a powerful critic of John McCain. Last year, the court ruled against Ledbetter in a case she filed against Goodyear for paying her 40 percent less than men in similar jobs. The decision rolled back years of precedent and made it much harder for women to challenge pay discrimination in court. Members of Congress introduced legislation named after Ledbetter to remedy the problem, then failed to pass it. A star was born.

Ledbetter gave a rousing speech at the Democratic convention, and this week, she makes her debut in a series of Obama campaign ads blasting John McCain for opposing pay discrimination laws. Ledbetter is Obama’s answer to Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman: a white, working-class woman who played by the rules and got screwed by GOP policies and judges on every level. In the Obama ad, she quotes John McCain dismissing the gender pay-gap by saying that women just need “more training and education.” After noting that she had the same education and training as the men who made more than her at Goodyear, Ledbetter quips: “On the economy, it’s John McCain who needs an education.”

Ledbetter’s story polls so well that the advocacy group People for the American way is also using her case in ads targeting seven Republican senators up for reelection, including New Hampshire’s John Sununu and Minnesota’s Norm Coleman, who voted to confirm Bush nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito. PFAW is only one of a number of liberal groups hoping to make the future of the Supreme Court a major campaign issue. (The next president is likely to appoint anywhere from one to three new justices.) Today in a conference call, PFAW president Kathryn Kolbert noted that the Obama ads may be the first time that a Supreme Court case has been turned into a significant presidential campaign issue (aside from Roe, of course).

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