Will Running Against The Koch Brothers Help The Democrats In November?
By now you've probably noticed that the Democratic base's antipathy towards the fascist-leaning Koch brothers has been adopted by Harry Reid and is becoming standard fare in Democratic Party strategies against the "Koch-addict" Republicans. If you're wondering what's behind the new-found populism from the Democratic Establishment, Ashley Parker explained it for NY Times readers last week. "Democrats," she wrote, "are embarking on a broad effort that aims to unmask the press-shy siblings and portray them, instead, as a pair of villains bent on wrecking progressive politics." The ad, up top, for Mark Begich's campaign is the first in a series meant to tie Republican Senate candidates to the policies-- overwhelmingly rejected by American voters-- of the Koch brothers: The GOP is addicted to Koch… and the DSCC isn't just talking about Tom Ravenel and Trey Radel.
We've been worrying that the Kochs have targeted Alan Grayson in Orlando-- and have already spent $400,000 smearing him with their false TV and radio ads-- but the DSCC, of course, is worried about Koch millions going into campaigns against vulnerable incumbents Mark Begich (D-AK), Mark Pryor (D-AK), Mary Landrieu (LA), John Walsh (MT), and Kay Hagan (NC), as well as not vulnerable Jean Shaheen (NH) and against two targeted open seat candidates, Bruce Braley (IA) and Gary Peters (MI). That's why Reid has been leading the way on this.
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, foreshadowed the campaign by taking to the Senate floor on Tuesday-- an unusual move-- for the second time in two weeks to accuse the Koch brothers of unfairly meddling in the political system by helping to pump more than $30 million dollars so far in television advertising and other activities into the most competitive congressional races across the country. On Wednesday, he attacked them again during his weekly news conference.It's great that Reid and the DC Establishment Democrats are jumping in on this. Bernie Sanders, of course, has been pointing out the dangers of Koch-addiction for years. Greg Sargent used his Washington Post column a few days ago to get at the root of why mainstream Dems are finally on board-- getting voters to focus on actual positions advanced by the Republicans on behalf of the Kochs and other plutocrats that are at odds with the economic interests of the overwhelming majority of Americans.
Many of the ads by Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group backed by the Koch brothers, are especially critical of President Obama’s signature health care law.
But whether the words of Mr. Reid, a member of an institution with historically low approval ratings, and even the efforts of other Democratic groups, will be any match for what the Kochs can spend remains an open and urgent question for Democrats.
“Harry Reid can stand on the floor at the United States Senate and howl at the moon all night long if he wants,” said Ryan Williams, a Republican strategist. “But the reality is that he is powerless to stop millions of Americans from watching ads that tell the personal stories of real people who have been hurt by Obamacare. He’s basically spitting in the ocean and fooling himself into thinking that he’s making waves.”
In an interview in his Senate office on Wednesday, Mr. Reid said his outspokenness against the Kochs stemmed from his concern for the middle class. “Right now, because of people like the two brothers, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is getting squeezed out of existence,” he said. “They’re against everything that’s good for America today.”
Mr. Reid said his focus on the Koch brothers was both personal and political.
“How could I do nothing? How could I let these people try to buy America?” he asked. “Don’t I have an obligation, of someone that has been designated to run the Senate, to speak out when I see two people trying to buy America?”
Democrats say the strategy of spotlighting the Koch brothers’ activities is politically shrewd. The majority leader was particularly struck by a presentation during a recent Senate Democratic retreat, which emphasized that one of the best ways to draw an effective contrast is to pick a villain, one of his aides said. And by scolding the Koch brothers, Mr. Reid is trying to draw them out, both to raise their public profile, and also to help rally the Democratic base.
The approach stems, in part, from Democratic-funded research showing that many voters believe the political system is rigged in favor of the super-rich.
“Part of responding to these attacks that the Koch brothers are spending millions upon millions on is to make sure the voters understand who is behind them, and what’s behind them,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster. “And our research has shown pretty clearly that once voters recognize the source of the attacks, they tend to discount them substantially.”
In 2012, Mr. Garin produced a research project for Patriot Majority PAC, an outside Democratic group, looking at the public awareness that swing voters and traditionally Democratic constituencies have of the Koch brothers. He found that his focus group respondents had an “overwhelmingly negative” reaction to the Kochs’ political involvement, with their top concern being that “the Koch brothers’ agenda will hurt average people and the undermine the middle class.”
Craig Varoga, who runs Patriot Majority, used Mr. Garin’s findings to start a “Stop the Greed Agenda” campaign-- which seeks to highlight what it views as “mega-billionaire special interests,” such as the Kochs’, around the country. He also plans to do more to spotlight the brothers’ ideological agenda this year.
Why do these candidates oppose raising the minimum wage, or extending unemployment insurance, or expanding Medicaid, all of which would benefit so many people in the states they would represent? Republicans may claim a legitimate rationale for these positions, but the question is, how do you get voters to focus on the fact that these are really their positions?
Or, on local issues: Why does GOP candidate Tom Cotton of Arkansas oppose the farm bill, which many others say would benefit the state? (AFP opposes it.) Where are the GOP Senate candidates in Alaska on the closing of a refinery in that state, which was criticized by many local officials? (Koch companies own it.)
Dems hope to focus voters on these actual positions by painting candidates as beholden to an agenda held by outside interests. The Koch brothers are a proxy for special interests in general, an easy-to-understand concept designed to create a narrative framework within which voters might reach the general conclusion that GOP candidates’ priorities aren’t in their states’ interests; they are serving something-- or someone-- else.
This is similar to the Dems’ Bain strategy of 2012. This was widely seen as nothing more than an effort to paint Romney as a heartless plutocrat. In reality, the goal was to create a framework within which voters could be persuaded of his actual policies and priorities, which research had shown voters simply weren’t prepared to accept.