Whole categories of political attacks proliferate every cycle that no one truly thinks matters, if they were honest with themselves. Not the political operatives who push them. Not the political reporters who cover them. Certainly not the candidates themselves. As for the voters, it’s just white noise.
After a while, some of these attacks — how many votes has so-and-so missed, for example — start to seem like they’re generated by some primitive computer programmed 40 years ago that no one bothered to unplug. Does anyone really care?
Every cycle has its own wrinkle on the theme: the political attack that everyone goes through the motions of treating half-seriously, even though no one anywhere gives half a damn.
“YOU DON’T EVEN LIVE HERE!”
When all politics is local, perhaps no attack is as theoretically damaging as “You’re not even from here.” Incumbents and challengers, from Louisiana to Alaska, alike have been accused of trying to carpet-bag their way to the U.S. Senate.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) got into trouble in February for admitting to the New York Times that his listed residence in Kansas belonged to campaign donors and he didn’t have a house of his own in the state. It soon became a focal point for his GOP primary challenger, Milton Wolf, whom Roberts barely beat in July.
“Pat Roberts has been in Washington for 47 years, and for him now to admit that he comes ‘home’ to Dodge City only when he gets an opponent is a slap in the face to Kansans,” Wolf said in a statement to Politico. Independent candidate Greg Orman hasn’t belabored the point as much, but it’s implicit in his attacks on Roberts as an out-of-touch Washington insider.
“I suspect I’ve been to Dodge City more this year than you have, I’ve been there four times,” Orman said in a debate last month.
Sen. Mary Landrieu has come under the same attack for claiming her family’s home in New Orleans while residing in a $2.5 million Washington, D.C. home, as the Washington Post reported in August. That fact then, of course, became an opportunity for her opponent, also a member of Congress who presumably spends a great deal of time in D.C, as more connected to home. “I still come back to Louisiana every weekend. I live here,” her Republican challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy, said. “I see patients here. My children go to school here.”
While Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) makes his entire campaign about how true Alaskan he is, his campaign has sought to paint Republican candidate Dan Sullivan as an “East Coast outsider,” in part because he claimed a Maryland home as residence while he worked for the federal government in the mid-2000s.
Perhaps most tellingly, when Republicans realized they needed to address South Dakota independent candidate Larry Pressler, a former senator, as the polls tightened there, the first line of attack was his claimed home in Washington.
— Brad Dayspring (@BDayspring) October 10, 2014
“WHY DID YOU MISS THOSE COMMITTEE HEARINGS?”
The missed committee-hearing — particularly in favor of a fundraiser — has become another favorite that expects voters to care about Washington insider minutia.
Sen. Kay Hagan (D) has been the latest target — as CNN reported, her campaign acknowledged she missed a classified hearing on the Islamic State in February to attend to raise money for re-election in New York.
— Brad Dayspring (@BDayspring) October 9, 2014
That looks bad, but the usual reasons for a missed hearing are — as one might expect — much more boring, like a conflict with another hearing, as Hagan’s campaign explained to CNN about other missed hearings. But the same line is still popping up all over the map.
Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) attacked Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) for skipping national-security hearings in a debate last week as well. “Where were you?” Gardner asked, invoking ISIS as Republicans in North Carolina have done.
Neither side is too proud to roll it out either. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) has been under fire in the Iowa Senate race for missing veterans affairs hearings.
And then Politico just so happened to come across the fact that Republican candidate Joni Ernst missed about 40 percent of the votes in the Iowa Senate.
The true deciding vote, as most who were there should remember, was Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) of Cornhusker Kickback fame — but he has since retired, so he isn’t of much use to Republicans. But the Washington Post reported in 2009 that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had secured Nelson’s vote as the 60th he needed to clear cloture on the health care reform law.
“WHY ARE YOU AVOIDING THE PRESIDENT?”
The president, most people are aware, is not very popular right now: 39 percent approval, according to Gallup. Yet political journalists and competing campaigns manage to feign all kinds of surprise when candidates in tight races are hesitant about appearing side by side with him.
Back in January, North Carolina Republicans attacked Hagan for skipping a speech that Obama gave at North Carolina State University. Then in July, Udall was chided by Gardner’s campaign for — get this — staying in Washington for a vote rather than come to a fundraiser Obama was hosting in Colorado. You can’t win for losing sometimes.
Udall “has been called out on being a rubber stamp for President Obama’s agenda he has decided to hide in Washington, D.C. instead of face voters back in his home state,” a Gardner spokesperson said. “Senator Udall’s bizarre behavior these last few days will no doubt leave many Coloradans questioning his integrity, and rightly so.”
Those attacks have likely been encouraged by the press coverage that emphasizes Obama’s absence on the campaign trail. In the last week, the New York Times penned a piece about how Obama had been “benched” for 2014, while Bloomberg Politics declared that the midterm campaigns were the moment when Obama was sidelined and the Clintons took over as the faces of the party.
“We’d gain less in minorities that he’d turn on than we’d give up in undecideds he’d turn off,” an anonymous Democratic operative explained. “Net-net, for almost every campaign, putting him out there is a loser.”