Iowa House district 43: Chris Hagenow is worried

In a sure sign that Republicans consider House district 43 competitive, State Representative Chris Hagenow’s campaign is spending tens of thousands of dollars on television commercials attacking his Democratic challenger Susan Judkins. The ads repeat several messages a Republican push-poll used against Judkins earlier this fall. My transcript and description of the commercial is after the jump. Bleeding Heartland previewed the House district 43 race here.

House district 43 covers the suburbs of Windsor Heights and Clive in Polk County, plus part of West Des Moines. Click here to view a district map.

House district 43 contained 7,265 Democrats, 8,405 Republicans, and 5,725 no-party voters as of October 2012.

As a two-term incumbent in a Republican-leaning district, Hagenow should not have anything to worry about. In fact, Republican blogger Craig Robinson breezily put House district 43 on his list of seats GOP incumbents are likely to win, rather than on his list of “Republican incumbent races to watch.”

But Hagenow defeated Windsor Heights Mayor Jerry Sullivan by fewer than 100 votes in 2008. I suspect Republican polling shows this race to be too close for comfort. Typically, legislators who are not worried spend their campaign funds on mostly positive campaign communication. While Hagenow has sent voters several direct mail pieces touting his record, he has also sent some sharply negative pieces about Judkins.

Now he is running a 100 percent negative television commercial. I first saw this ad on October 26, and it’s been in heavy rotation during newscasts and a few other programs on Des Moines-based WHO-TV and KCCI-TV.

Female voice-over: How would Susan Judkins get Iowa back on track? [menacing music plays as words in white block capitals appear on a black screen: HOW WOULD SUSAN JUDKINS GET IOWA BACK ON TRACK?]

Judkins supports Obamacare, cutting over 700 billion dollars from Medicare, [Black and white photo of Judkins appears on screen, next to words JUDKINS SUPPORTS OBAMACARE CUTTING OVER 700 BILLION DOLLARS FROM MEDICARE]

and its massive new tax on middle-class families. [Judkin’s photo remains on screen, words change to AND ITS MASSIVE NEW TAX ON MIDDLE CLASS FAMILIES]

Judkins is a former lobbyist who worked to increase taxes to pay for wasteful spending, [words on screen: JUDKINS IS A FORMER LOBBYIST WHO WORKED TO INCREASE TAXES TO PAY FOR WASTEFUL SPENDING]

like 19,000 taxpayer dollars used for new carpeting at a government agency where Judkins was a member. [words on screen: LIKE 19,000 TAXPAYER DOLLARS USED FOR NEW CARPETING AT A GOVERNMENT AGENCY]

Susan Judkins. More taxes, wasteful spending, liberal policies that hurt Iowa families. [SUSAN JUDKINS- MORE TAXES… WASTEFUL SPENDING… LIBERAL POLICIES THAT HURT IOWA FAMILIES.]

A few thoughts on the style:

The typical attack ad uses the most unflattering photograph you can find of your opponent. In contrast, Hagenow’s spot features a flattering picture of Judkins. In fact, it’s a photo Judkins uses on her own Facebook page and campaign website.

The visuals are intended to convey the message even if the viewer has muted the sound during commercial breaks. Almost all of the ad script appears on screen in block capital letters. However, it’s a wordy ad, and the letters are fairly small on the screen. I wonder how many viewers would read and absorb the messages.

A few thoughts on the content:

“Obamacare” is a theme of many Republican commercials in statehouse races, even though the Iowa House doesn’t have a vote on most aspects of the federal law. The $700 billion dollars taken from Medicare point is misleading, as is the alleged massive tax on middle-class families, but even if you accept those claims, the outcome of the House district 43 race won’t affect how the federal government implements the Affordable Care Act.

The now-optional Medicaid expansion is one of the few parts of health care reform that will come to a vote in the Iowa legislature. Judkins is on record supporting broader eligibility for Medicaid in Iowa. Hagenow has expressed concerns about the long-term costs but stopped short of ruling out the Medicaid expansion.

The $19,000 carpet and alleged lobbying for higher taxes were among the key points in the Republican push-poll against Judkins. She didn’t even work for the Rebuild Iowa Office at the time of the office renovation, and anyway, her job didn’t involve approving the furnishings. Moreover, the Rebuild Iowa Office was far from wasteful. The agency came in under budget during its last fiscal year.

As for lobbying to “increase taxes for wasteful spending,” Judkins used to lobby for the Iowa League of Cities, which generally advocates for local control or “home rule.” Hagenow’s commercial, like the push-poll before it, implies Judkins worked to increase tax collections by cities. It is more accurate to say that she lobbied against state lawmakers’ efforts to restrict local taxing authority.

One of the recent direct mail pieces from the Hagenow campaign made the same points in a compare and contrast format. On the left side of the page, Hagenow is hailed as “fiscally responsible”:

A leader in the effort to restore fiscal responsibility to our budget

Supports reducing government spending and returning the savings to taxpayers

Endorsed by Iowa manufacturers and small businesses (Iowa Industry PAC of ABI and NFIB/Iowa)

On the right side of the page, Judkins is labeled “Borrow, Tax and Spend”:

A former lobbyist who worked to increase the amount of money cities collect from taxpayers

Supported Project Destiny and I-JOBS

Under Governor Culver, was part of a government agency that spent $19,000 in taxpayer money on new carpeting for their offices

Judkins did support Project Destiny (a failed Polk County referendum) and I-JOBS, but the other claims are misleading. I noticed that Hagenow didn’t have the guts to raise those points to Judkins’ face during the candidates’ only joint forum. I attended that discussion at the Windsor Heights Community Center on October 24. Both candidates were cordial, coming across as thoughtful and knowledgeable.

It’s easier to blanket the airwaves and hide behind direct mail than to dupe voters in front of a live audience, where Judkins could have responded.

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