One important thing happened in the battle for the Balance of Power in Congress this week, and it did not have a damned thing to do with either Sarah Palin or Mark Sanford.
The NRCC unleashed a media assault this week, and in so doing tipped their hands both on their target list and their issues agenda as we head into 2010.
Last week, by a 219-212 vote, the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which includes cap-and-trade and other goodies. The Republicans, clever as always, were quick to condemn the bill by proclaiming how many thousands of dollars each taxpayer was going to be saddled with, and how many jobs are going to be shed in the name of this bill.
As David Waldman pointed out here at Daily Kos at the time:
Lots of specific predictions by Republicans during the debate on exact numbers of jobs that would be lost if the bill passes. But of course, they made the same predictions about the stimulus bill. And the budget. And the 1993 Clinton stimulus package. And the Clinton budget. And Medicare. And Social Security. Etc., etc., etc.
By this week, it was clear that the Republicans thought they had a political winner with this bill. By the middle of the week, the House campaign arm of the GOP--The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) already had a television ad in the can attacking Democrats for the bill.
This is one of the first real salvos of Campaign 2010, a brushback pitch in the first inning, if you'll allow a baseball analogy on this Fourth of July weekend.
It also seems, to use an oft-used phrase, to have been an epic fail. On three different levels.
The first level was on the accuracy of the ad. The fact that the DCCC, represented in this case by spokesman Ryan Rudominer, immediately excoriated the advertisement was no surprise:
"Instead of offering solutions, the Republican Party of No is trying to block progress on creating clean energy jobs, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and getting America running on clean energy. It's no wonder the American people don't trust Republicans when all they offer are false attacks on President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and Congressional Democrats."
The disturbing fact, for the NRCC, was that the condemnations about the veracity of the ad did not end with their opposite numbers at the DCCC.
The nonpartisan site Factcheck.org were the next to call the NRCC ad into question, dinging the GOP campaign team for some fuzzy math in their commercial:
The ad says the bill will result in lost jobs and cost "middle class families" $1,870 a year. That sounds pretty dire, until you consider that this week we posted an item about the Office of the Republican Whip Eric Cantor’s claim that the same bill would "impose a national energy tax of up to $3,100." So is the cost of the legislation going down? Did the NRCC make a mistake in its math?
The Factcheck article also pointed out that opinions vary widely on the potential costs and benefits of the Clean Energy bill, and depended (at least in part) on who was doing the figuring. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a group that favored the legislation, estimated that the bill would SAVE American families nearly four thousand dollars a year by 2030. The Heritage Foundation, an opponent of the bill, estimated costs of roughly twelve hundred dollars a year by 2035. As Larry Sabato observed, "Really, how is anybody — even a professional economist — to know exactly what the effect of this bill will be? It’s so entangled with the rest of the economy."
What became clear immediately, though, is that the estimates provided in the NRCC ad (and in claims made by other prominent Republicans, including Eric Cantor) were contradicted directly by estimates made by government agencies. The nonpartisan CBO made a cost estimate, and found it at $175 per household by 2020. This was less than one-tenth of the figure cited in the NRCC ad. It was a rounding error when compared to estimates from other prominent Republicans, who were citing figures ranging from $3000 to $4000. The EPA estimate was even lower, estimating costs in a range between $80 to $111.
When the factual concerns about the NRCC ads became clear, one of the stations slated to run the ad refused to run it. As DavidNYC pointed out yesterday:
TV & radio stations are open to legal liability when they run third-party ads (they are immune when running candidate ads), so the only reason to nix a spot is because your lawyers tell you to.
The second component of the NRCC's apparent failure on this issue is the fact that with one notable exception (a poll earlier this week by Rasmussen), polling has shown a modest but real level of support for the contents of the initiative.
Take, for example, a poll conducted by ABC/WaPo one week before the passage of the bill. In it, voters were asked would they support cap-and-trade provisions, even if it meant a ten-dollar increase in their electric bills. 56% of Americans said yes, while 42% of Americans said no.
Also, if the Democrats were paying a political price for their legislation, it sure didn't show up in this week's Daily Kos/Research 2000 State of the Nation tracking poll, where every Democrat surveyed saw small increases in their favorabilities, while every Republican surveyed saw small increases in their UNfavorabilities.
Now, it cannot be said that this is solely attributable to the bill. There was, of course, the small matter of Mark Sanford's high profile Republican implosion in the news cycle last week.
What is clear, though, is that if the passage of the Clean Energy bill was supposed to be a "game changer" to the detriment of Democrats, it certainly was not apparent in the high-profile aftermath of the bill's passage.
The final component of the NRCC's failure on this first salvo of Campaign 2010 was the scattershot targeting of this attack.
Some of the representatives targeted by this ad make sense. They include a group of potentially vulnerable freshman:
- Tom Perriello (VA-05)
- Harry Teague (NM-02)
- Betsy Markey (CO-04)
- John Boccieri (OH-16)
- Alan Grayson (FL-08)
- Debbie Halvorson (IL-11)
- Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15)
Others are a bit more curious, because they are incumbents in swingy districts who cakewalked to wins in 2008. This might be a tipping of the hand by the NRCC, a sign that they think that they have legit candidates at the ready for 2010:
- Baron Hill (IN-09)
- Zack Space (OH-18)
- Bruce Braley (IA-01)
Then there are targets that make little sense at all. True, all four of these senior Democrats work out of districts carried by John McCain in 2008. But these four Democrats have not been seriously threatened in their House seats in...well...forever. Unless they have superstar candidates at the ready, these four seem like a curious effort, if not a wasted one.
- Ike Skelton (MO-04)
- Rick Boucher (VA-09)
- Vic Snyder (AR-02)
- Bart Gordon (TN-06)
Taken as a whole, this first major salvo of the 2010 election cycle seems to, for the moment, be a pretty big misfire. Time will tell before the issue resonates for Republicans. Clearly, they think that it will, given their swift action in this attack campaign. The early signs have to give them at least a little bit of pause.
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