Kuhl's MoveOn Dilemma

A story posted yesterday by Rochester NBC affiliate WHEC is a good illustration of the dilemma that the Kuhl campaign faces in responding to the MoveOn ad campaign. On one hand, the Kuhl campaign would like those ads portrayed as a liberal smear by outsiders. On the other, they take the risk of drawing attention to the ads and increasing their impact.

In this case, I think the Kuhl campaign got hung on the second horn of the dilemma -- their complaining hurt their case more than it helped.

The WHEC story is about the second MoveOn ad, which is more accurate and more damaging than the first. During the story, all of the main MoveOn claims are restated: we hear that Kuhl accepted money from defense contractors and opposed penalties for them, and we also see the attempt to tie Kuhl to Cheney and Delay.

These claims are stronger than the first ad. Though the leap to Cheney is questionable, it is clear that Kuhl took some money from defense PACs, took money from Delay's PAC, and voted against a number of amendments that would have mandated closer scrutiny of defense contractors. (MoveOn's factual summary[pdf] is pretty accurate on all but the Cheney link.)

James Kuhl, Randy's son and campaign manager (who, as rochesterturning points out, turns in yet another ham-fisted performance) fires back with a single defense, which is Webster's definition of red-handed. He also makes the weak claim that voters in the district "are smart enough to know what's going on".

As I posted earlier, I agree that "red handed" was overly harsh in the first MoveOn ad, which mainly concerned Randy's votes for spending in Iraq. But James' response doesn't address the contributions. Reasonable people might at least wonder if there's something wrong with a congressman taking money from defense contractors and then not trying harder to reign in waste.

But here's where James is stuck. To defend against specific charges gives them more credence. So he sticks with the "red handed" defense and leaves the rest of the ad to stand unanswered.

In this case, MoveOn got what they wanted. Not only did they air their attack ads, but they also got some priceless prime-time news coverage which repeated the content of those ads.