When Carl Levin, a long-time Democratic Senator from Michigan, announced his retirement the leading GOP candidate was Terri Lynn Land and the Democratic candidate was Gary Peters. In February the conservative PAC, Americans for Prosperity, launched an ad attacking Peters for his vote for Obamacare. It told the story of Julie Boonstra, a patient battling cancer who was forced by Obamacare to leave the doctor she trusted and was concerned whether she would continue to have access to a cancer drug that had been very affective for her. The polls turned against Peters and for Land.
The Peters campaign played defense against the issue by attacking Julie Boonstra and the credibility of the ad, but with little effect on the polls. In this atmosphere, the Democratic Super PAC, Senate Majority PAC controlled by Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, began running ads against Terri Land. They cherry picked minor provisions buried within Obamacare and turned these mole hills into mountains. Among the claims were that Land would allow women to be charged more for health insurance. She would deny women certain types of birth control. (This is basically the claim against the recent successful Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court.) They also claim Land would deny abortions even in the case of rape or incest. Finally, the ad insinuates that Land is doing this on behalf of the Koch brothers, major funders of Americans for Prosperity.
Notice that nowhere in the ad do they mention Obamacare or its official name, the Affordable Care Act. They treat these provisions as if they were stand-alone law. Obviously they do not mention all the unpopular major provisions of Obamacare. Most importantly, they do not directly defend Peters on his Obamacare vote or even raise the issue that Julie Boonstra is facing. While reprehensible, this tactic is effective. The AFP ad put Peters on the defensive. The Senate Majority PAC ads did the same for Land.
In response, the Land campaign put out a whimsical ad showing an astonished Land wondering why Peters, a man, was claiming that Land, a woman, was part of the “War on Women”. It was a fine ad, but not enough by itself. There has been no counter attack against Peters.
The Senate Majority PAC has now come out with a new commercial even more directly attacking Land by connecting her with the Koch brothers. The ad claims that as Secretary of State, Land loosened campaign rules to allow PACS like Americans for Prosperity to have even more freedom of speech (not exactly their wording). In return for being a good puppet the Koch brothers are financing Land’s campaign (again not the exact wording but the implication is there). Finally, the killing blow is that the Koch brothers shut down a factory in Michigan putting people out of work. All of this is a very tenuous connection but the commercial is effective to low information voters.
What is Land’s response? Her campaign is running an ad talking about the fighting among factions in Washington and showing two nicely dressed boys roughing it up in the back yard (get it?). I will pause while you get your yawn out of the way.
Not surprisingly the polls are now favoring Peters with the RCP average at 44.8% for Peters and 39.0% for Land. (The internals of the latest poll has the Obama job approval/disapproval numbers at 40%/48% in Michigan.) Real Clear Politics rates the race as leans Democrat. It is definitely not a time for panic or for hailing Peters as the next Senator from Michigan, but it is also not a time to be running puff commercials showing the political parties as two ornery boys.
It is time for the Land campaign or AFP to return to attacking Peters and putting him on defense. They can definitely attack his hypocrisy. While complaining about the influence of billionaires, the Senate Majority PAC, has received major funding from Michael Bloomberg (net worth of $22 billion) and James Simon (net worth $11 billion). Those two are just the tip of the iceberg. I also don’t think Harry Reid is too popular in Michigan. If anyone is a puppet it would be Peters with Reid pulling the strings.
Land can also take a play out of the Peters playbook. Ignore the attacks and attack back. If Land is for outlawing abortion, Peters is for abortion for any reason including partial birth abortion and sex selective abortion. Not only that, but Peters' vote for Obamacare means that he wants to force everyone for pay for abortion even if you oppose it on moral grounds. Peters voted for the wasteful Obama stimulus spending that astronomically increased our debt while doing little for our economy. Peters would support the disastrous Obama foreign policy. Peters would vote for judges that take away your free speech and your freedom of religion. There is a treasure trove of bad policy that Peters supports. Land could run a new campaign ad against Peters every week from now until the November election and she could save the hardest hitting ones for October. She needs to keep Peters on the defensive. That is the way to win a campaign.