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Kuhl's Newest Ad

Kuhl has started using Google ads.  Here are two of them:


Kuhl's New Ad

Randy Kuhl's new ad is a positive, first-person accounting of federal money spend in the district.  It also introduces a new campaign tag line:  "Accessible, Independent, Effective:  Congressman Randy Kuhl".  Here it is:

Yard Signs

On my daily commute in the far North of the 29th, I've noticed a new Massa lawn sign every day for the past 3 days.  These signs are placed in front lawns, not at exit ramps or busy corners.  That's a small but interesting indication of voter interest and campaign organization.  I've yet to see a Kuhl sign.

Massa's New Ad

The Massa campaign has produced their first campaign commercial.  It's a positive ad focused on introducing Massa to the 29th.  There's no word on when (or even if) the ad will show on television, but you can watch it after the break.

Update:  According to the Massa campaign, the ad began running last night.

Massa's Response to the Kuhl Ads

The Massa campaign has posted a detailed response to the Kuhl ads.  They make the obvious point that they have no control over MoveOn, and that they want to stick to an issues-based campaign, without personal attacks.   

The response also lists the debate invitations that have been made so far, and says that the Kuhl campaign has backed away from all of them, including the challenge that Kuhl made in July.  Debates are looking very unlikely at this point in the campaign.

Kuhl's New Ad

Randy Kuhl has a new ad [YouTube] running in the Rochester media market.  I first saw it at 11 p.m. tonight on the NBC affiliate, WHEC.  Rochesterturning saw it earlier this evening.

The ad is a response to the mistaken impression left by the first MoveOn ad that Kuhl voted for the initial Halliburton contract.  It uses that mistake to call the ads a pack of lies, and it accuses Massa of buying into the ads.

Overall, this ad is a pretty good response.  It uses the one weak point of the MoveOn ads to great effect.  Then, it goes on the offense by making an accusation that Massa supports the ads.  That's not true, since Massa's made no comment on the ads prior to Kuhl's response.  But he also hasn't repudiated them, and Kuhl is baiting him to do so.

MoveOn's first ad was sloppy.  Though some kind of Kuhl response was inevitable, MoveOn made his job easier, and Eric Massa's harder.   

Here's full description of the ad:

On screen:  A television running the beginning of the "dumping billions" ad.

Announcer:  "Lies, Lies, Lies.  The ads being run by the left-wing lobbying group are simply that:  Lies"

Screen text (white on black): "The votes took place in 2004"

Announcer:  "The votes they talk about took place long before Randy Kuhl was elected to congress."

Screen text changes to: "Randy Kuhl took office in 2005".

Announcer:  "They know that, but they'll say anything."

Picture of Eric Massa.

Announcer:  "And their candidate, Eric Massa?  Buys into every word, every lie."

Picture of Massa fades to Red.

Announcer:  "Eric Massa and  They should be ashamed of themselves."

Kuhl appears and says:  "I'm Randy Kuhl.  You deserve the whole truth.  That's why I approved this message."

Kuhl Speaks on MoveOn

In a press conference yesterday, Randy Kuhl came to his own defense against the MoveOn ad campaign.  In addition to repeating that the ads have been pulled (a claim denied by MoveOn and one area station), Kuhl added a new defense.  He said that MoveOn's claim that he voted four times to let defense contractors "off the hook" is "based on procedural issues that had nothing to do with the substance of the legislation."

That quote is a summary of Kuhl's position by the Star-Gazette's reporter at the press conference.  Assuming that's a fair summary, it deserves a closer look, because it will probably be part of Kuhl's defense against similar attacks later in the campaign.

According to MoveOn's backup document [pdf], Kuhl voted four times to spare defense contractors, twice on motions to recommit, and twice on amendments.

A couple of MoveOn's examples support Kuhl's position. HR 1751 is a bill to "protect judges, prosecutors, witnesses, victims and their family members".  It passed on a bipartisan vote.  During the debate over the bill Rep Higgins (D-NY) moved that the bill be sent back to committee (a "motion to recommit") to add an amendment prohibiting profiteering and fraud in military actions and disaster relief. This motion failed on a strict party-line vote. (The Congressional Record pages are here [pdf] and here [pdf].)

Kuhl can reasonably argue that this vote was right.  The amendment proposed wasn't relevant to the bill, and sending the bill back to committee would have slowed down its passage.  Kuhl can make a similar case for another of the votes MoveOn cited.  In this case, Kuhl voted against a similar motion to recommit on HR 1279, a bill "to reduce violent gang crime and protect law-abiding citizens and communities from violent criminals".   Again, this motion had nothing to do with the bill in question.

But Kuhl can't make this same claim for two other votes MoveOn cited.  The first was an amendment to HR 4939, an emergency supplemental appropriation bill. It sought to prohibit appropriations to contractors that have had audit exceptions totaling more than $100 million.  The second sought to amend another emergency supplemental to establish a committee to investigate the reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Both amendments were germane, and both votes were on the amendments, not on procedure.

Some would argue that the use of these latter votes to attack Kuhl is also unfair.  After all, they're merely part of the partisan Kabuki of the 109th Congress.  The Democrats want to make oversight of the spending in Iraq a major campaign issue.  To show that Republicans have resisted adding additional oversight, they've used these amendments and motions, which have no hope of passage, solely to get votes on the record.

But if you accept that argument, it's hard to see how he Kuhl has any responsibility for any of his votes.  Moreover, there's the broader issue of accountability for his party's positions, regardless of the specifics of individual votes.  Kuhl has voted with his party on almost every issue, including continued (and sometimes wasteful) funding of the war in Iraq.  He sits on no committees relevant to the war.  Other than his public pronoucements on the war, these votes are all his constituents have to judge him by.   And, in real votes on germane amendments, he's voted against increased oversight of defense contractors twice.

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.

WHAM Denies Pulling Ad

Rochester's ABC affiliate denies they pulled a MoveOn ad, as the Kuhl campaign claimed in an earlier press release.  The GM of the station says the ads finished their scheduled run.  He also denies the Kuhl campaign's claim that WHAM concluded that the ad "contained multiple misrepresentations and was purposefully deceptive".

Either the Kuhl campaign over-interpreted the WHAM fact-checking article and the absence of MoveOn ads, or they just lied.  I have a hard time believing that they'd want to purposefully irritate a TV station in the district, so I'll go with simple incompetence as the explanation in this case.

WHAM Calls in the Fact Checkers

Rochester's ABC affiliate has fact-checked the first MoveOn ad.  Their take is that the ad contains a number of distortions. I think they're not far from the truth.

The first WHAM claim concerns the statement "What happened to the $300 billion we sent to Iraq.  Halliburton got $18 billion.  $9 billion is just plain missing."

WHAM calls this "faction" -- all the claims are factually true, but it gives the false impression that the $9 billion came from Halliburton.  I think WHAM has a point, but the way the ad is read makes it clear (to me at least) that the 18 and the 9 are separate parts of the 300.

More importantly, WHAM thinks the claim that Kuhl was caught "red-handed" voting for everything is wrong on three counts.  First, they point out that the last Halliburton contract was authorized before Kuhl was a member of Congress.  Second, they argue that no member votes for individual contracts.  Finally, they think the phrase "caught red-handed" implies wrongdoing.

Again, this is a matter of nuance.  Though the Halliburton contracts were authorized before Kuhl took office, he voted on continuing appropriations for the war, and voted against stricter contract enforcement.  Halliburton is a big part of those continuing appropriations.

It's also true that no member votes for individual contracts, and that cherry-picking tiny pieces of gigantic omnibus appropriations is a tried-and-true method of distorting records.  But picking Halliburton as the example of spending in the bill certainly isn't the worst example of cherry picking I've seen.  Kuhl is on record strongly supporting the Bush administration's position on Iraq, and that administration picked Halliburton as a key contractor.

I have to agree completely with the WHAM criticism of the "red-handed" portion of the ad.  Kuhl hasn't tried to hide his support of the war, and the notion that he's been caught out voting for appropriation bills doesn't hold water.

When I watched the first MoveOn ad, my general reaction was: "So what?  Kuhl votes for Iraq appropriations.  So do a number of Democrats.  End of story. "  The issue is that Kuhl's position on Iraq is completely dictated by the Bush administration rather than by his and his constituents' own independent take on the war.

Unfortunately, the practical constraints of a 30-second TV ad dictate much of the MoveOn strategy.  They must capture attention and implant an image.  A truck dumping money in the desert captures attention.  Randy Kuhl with red hands implants the image.

This is the state of politics on television, and we are all the worse for it.

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