David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

Matt Yglesias, in response to an earlier post today, uses my reference to Republican attack ads against Max Cleland in the 2002 Senate campaign as a jumping off point to harangue Democrats for whining instead of playing hardball politics in return.

While I don't disagree with the underlying point that whining is an ineffective political response to political attacks, especially on national security issues, Matt's assertion that the 2002 attack ads didn't question Cleland's personal bravery is simply not correct.

Go look at the ad that I linked to. It begins and ends with courage. Personal courage is the entire theme of the ad. The sarcastic narrator concludes by saying, "Max Cleland says he has the courage to lead, but the record proves Max Cleland is just misleading."

Matt asks "what does Cleland's triple-amputee status have to do with it?" I'd say everything. I mean that quite literally. While attacking the personal courage of a triple amputee wounded in combat who perseveres to become a U.S. senator was a disgrace, it is the very fact of his courage that led to the GOP attack. Personal courage was perhaps Cleland's greatest political strength, hence the attack. In the same way, John Kerry was swiftboated specifically because of his stellar swiftboat record.

I agree that a good biography ought not immunize a candidate from attack on the issues. But Matt is being blindingly naive when he says the ads merely offered a "seriously distorted and underhanded view of the issues at hand." These ads weren't about the issues; they were about the person. They seriously distorted Max Cleland. That is not how it should work.

Whatever you do today, watch this ad. I initially thought it was a joke, but, no, it appears to be an actual ad the RNC is running against Democrat Harold Ford in the Tennessee Senate race.

My, oh, my.

Late Update: Here's more on the ad and Republican Senate candidate Bob Corker's attempt to distance himself from the RNC's pitch.


If the elections for Congress were held today, according to the new NEWSWEEK poll, 60 percent of white Evangelicals would support the Republican candidate in their district, compared to just 31 percent who would back the Democrat. To the uninitiated, that may sound like heartening news for Republicans in the autumn of their discontent. But if you’re a pundit, a pol, or a preacher, you know better. White Evangelicals are a cornerstone of the GOP’s base; in 2004, exit polls found Republicans carried white Evangelicals 3 to 1 over Democrats, winning 74 percent of their votes. In turn, Evangelicals carried the GOP to victory. But with a little more than two weeks before the crucial midterms, the Republican base may be cracking.

There's really no way to calculate the monetary cost to the GOP of the recent sex-related scandals involving GOP congressmen, but you get hints of the toll here and there.

I already touched on the $271,000 the NRCC spent yesterday to boost Joe Negron, the sacrificial lamb in the race for Mark Foley's seat, who doesn't even get to have his own name on the ballot. That's money that clearly would have been used elsewhere were it not for the page eruption.

A couple of days ago, the NRCC suddenly plowed $225,000 into the NV-2, an open seat that heretofore had not garnered much attention. Why the sudden interest? Well, that's Jim Gibbons' seat, and while Gibbons is running for governor of Nevada, his late night carousing and alleged assault on a cocktail waitress are probably not leaving voters in that district with a warm fuzzy GOP feeling.

A quarter million here and a quarter million there, and pretty soon you're talking real money.

The National Education Association has jumped into the mid-terms in a big way, making major independent expenditures in three congressional districts.

As TPM's Election Central first reported a couple of days ago, the NV-3 held by Republican Jon Porter is looking like it's in play. To aid the effort, the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education has dropped $378,000 into that race.

In the AZ-5, the NEA is getting serious about knocking off Rep. J.D. Hayworth, with a $491,000 push. And in the NM-1, where Patricia Madrid and Heather Wilson are in a tight race, the NEA has put down $200,000.

The point here is not to document every last dime being spent, but to get a sense of when the battle is being joined, who is engaging in the fight, and where the stakes are the highest.

[Ed. Note: I thought it went without saying that the NEA, the teachers union, is siding with the Dems in these races.]

Late Friday, the NRCC reported another huge expenditure on congressional campaigns nationwide: almost $8.5 million. That brings the total spent by the NRCC since September 1 to nearly $50 million.

Here are the highlights of yesterday's buy:

$870,711 against Tammy Duckworth in the IL-6;

$681,919 against Lois Murphy in the PA-6;

$690,504 against Joe Sestak in the PA-7;

$676,781 against Patrick Murphy in the PA-8;

$561,110 against Zack Space in the OH-18;

$470,648 against Baron Hill in the IN-9;

$424,786 against Ken Lucas in the KY-4;

$414,826 against Patricia Madrid in the NM-1;

$351,599 against Patty Wetterling in the MN-6;

$271,000 to try to salvage the FL-16, Mark Foley's old district;

There are some additional smaller expenditures in some of the races I listed above, but those are major buys by the NRCC yesterday. So much money; so little time.

Unlikeliest political prop of the week, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Former U.S. senator Max Cleland is in Montana, campaigning for Democrat Jon Tester, who’s running against GOP incumbent U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns. This in today’s Billings Gazette:

“During his speech, Cleland made light of his own amputations by grabbing Tester’s left hand, which is missing three fingers lost in a meat grinder.

“‘At least he won’t be putting his hand in the till like someone we know,’ Cleland said, referring to Burns’ campaign donations of about $150,000 from Jack Abramoff, his clients and associates.”

A photo of the exchange is here. If the Dems take Congress, that image will bookend the era of Bush mendacity for me, along with the attack ad the GOP ran against the triple-amputee Cleland in the 2002 election, questioning his courage during the run-up to the Iraq War.

Quote of the week:

"The higher you climb up the tree, the more your ass shows."

--Richard Armitage, on the media attention that goes with rising up the ranks in Washington