Friday, April 11, 2014

Behind the Ad: How not to make an attack ad

By Richard K. Barry


Who: House Majority PAC (Democratic super-PAC), in support of Rep. Nick Rahall.

Where: West Virginia's 3rd Congressional District.

What's going on: Nick Rahall was first elected to the House in 1976, and while it's always hard to unseat a long-term incumbent, this is going to be a real race. In fact, The Hill calls him one of the most vulnerable incumbents. Evan Jenkins (R), a well-connected state senator who can raise a lot of money, is the challenger.

The ad attacks Jenkins, claiming that he tried to "delay a water safety bill meant to prevent a chemical spill similar to the one that recently devastated parts of the state":
The spot goes on to tie Jenkins to the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, who have poured millions into competitive House and Senate races — including hundreds of thousands into Rahall's district — hammering vulnerable Democrats.

It says that Freedom Industries, which caused the spill, is a "corporate partner" of the Koch brothers and suggests after Jenkins opposed the water safety bill, his Koch support increased.

Recently there was quite a bit of back-and-forthing that Rahall was contemplating retirement due, apparently, to attacks by the right, including from the Koch brothers. The story, reported by CNN's John King, included the claim that Rahall agreed to stay in the race on the basis of increased support from the Democratic national leadership. Rahall has denied he was thinking about walking away, but that's what you would expect him to say.

A recent poll has Rahall trailing Jenkins by a margin of 54 to 40 percent (conducted March 3-5). That'd depress me. A nasty race is expected:
"It's going to be quite ugly," said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of The Rothenberg Political Report — a national non-partisan political publication that currently lists the state's Third District as one of seven "toss up" Congressional districts across the country.

"The Congressman is facing a reelection race like he's never faced before," said Gonzales who characterized the campaign between the likely nominees, Rahall and state Senator Evan Jenkins (R-5, Cabell), as a "race to bottom," with the opposing candidates – and the groups that support them – spending a lot of money to tell voters why the other guy is a bad choice. 

Grade: Much as I dislike the Koch brothers, the logic of this ad is strained. Something about the Republican candidate "delaying" aid money after an environmental disaster - and having ties to the Koch brothers who had something to do with, I think,  some other environmental disaster. And they have given him lots of money to run in campaigns, suggesting that they are buying his support to do things that harm West Virginians. 

In a sense, it doesn't matter. The Koch brothers are the bad guys, and connecting them to bad things that happen to ordinary people is going to be a major part of the Democrats campaign in the midterms. I like the approach, but not this ad, which seems dishonest to me, and might well appear that way to others. The bad guys are bad enough. Don't help them by making them objects of sympathy. By the way, I'm not saying there's no case here, just that the ad doesn't make it. D+


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