It’s been an astounding week in the world of poltical campaign attacks, but more than that, in the push back from the targets—and the feverish commentary in the media. I’ve already covered some of it this week—from the case of the steelworker’s dead wife to the race-tinged claim that President Obama aims to gut welfare reform—but there’s really too much to catch up with right now.
Jon Stewart weighed in last night . And at the bottom of this piece I’ve included a couple of new ads: one portrays Florida’s right-wing Rep. Allen West smacking grandma, while the other, from MoveOn, portrays Mitt Romney as a pick-pocket out for your tax money—maybe even your birth control pills!
This week’s ads, and the controversy around them, will soon fade but another “attack” seems to have legs: Sen. Harry Reid’s claim that a “Bain investor” informed him that Romney didn’t pay taxes for ten years. Right-wingers in the media have accused Reid of “McCarthyism” which Frank Rich (now at New York magazine), among others, has firmly rejected . Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone says Obama , not Reid, should be taking the lead hitting Romney on taxes—the known rate he has paid, based on two returns, of 13 percent is bad enough.
“Barack Obama is one of the few politicians with the communication skills to explain this to middle America, but he’s refusing to go there, probably because he’s still hoping for a post-election rapprochement with Wall Street,” Taibbi charges. “He wants to go after Bain Capital, but not private equity in general; he wants to go after Mitt Romney’s missing tax returns, but not the tax returns of all people like Mitt Romney. That makes him look weak and indecisive, and it makes his message confusing.”
The latest twist is rampant speculation  on who Reid’s source might be, with fingers now pointing to the father of Jon Huntsman (remember him?).
Much more on all of this in days to come, but for now, here’s a rare heartening (and possibly precedent-setting) story surrounding an attack ad. It comes out of North Dakota, where Heidi Heitkamp (photo at above left) is running a surprisingly strong race in this red state for the US Senate. Normally, we’d show you the typically misleading or downright untruthful CrossroadsGPS ad in question right here, but—miracle of miracles—it’s disappeared, not only from TV but off YouTube! (You can view their previous doozy against Heitkamp here .)
So, how did this happen? It seems that Heitkamp had the temerity to not only denounce the ad as one big lie—but demanded that Crossroads take it down.
Surely a lost cause, right? You can get away with anything in attack ads these days, right, especially if you are not “affiliated” with a candidate? Yet Crossroads, which planned to spend $191,000 airing the spot, bowed to the demand and did the right thing—even while denying it had anything to do with Heitkamp’s request.
On that latter claim, Politico now has this pair of updates: “UPDATE: A Crossroads spokesman insisted this wasn’t a reactive move, saying they hadn’t received notification from Heidi Heitkamp or North Dakota stations…. UPDATE II: Julie Bernhardt, of station KMXC in North Dakota, said officials with her shop sent word to ‘the company’ behind the ad that there had been complaints from Heitkamp’s team well prior to the spot getting pulled.”
So, what was in the ad? It claimed that when Heitkamp was attorney general during the 1990s, she spent taxpayer money on private airplanes. Heitkamp called the statement “completely false,” pointing out that her office got two surplus planes for free from the Department of Defense. One was used for anti-drug missions, the other for spare parts.
Will this start a trend in forcing PACs and candidates to pull false advertising? David Nir of Daily Kos, in his morning briefing newsletter this morning observes, “Remember, TV stations are required to air all candidate ads and are immune from lawsuits regarding them, but they can be held liable for defamation when it comes to third-party ads.”
Now here are two new attacks, as promised, the first vs. Allen West and the second from MoveOn.
Greg Mitchell’s books on influential American campaigns include Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady, The Campaign of the Century (on Upton Sinclair’s race) and Why Obama Won. He also blogs daily at Pressing Issues.