IA-03 roundup: Ads, poll and Biden in Des Moines (updated)

Since the last time Bleeding Heartland caught up on the third Congressional district race, seven-term incumbent Leonard Boswell’s chances for re-election have improved. Long considered Iowa’s most vulnerable Democrat in Congress, Boswell may now be in a stronger position than he has been all year.

New commercials, a new poll, and more are after the jump.  

Zaun launched two new television commercials at the end of September. (I covered his first two general-election ads here.) The new spots tie Boswell to the weak economy. Here’s “Job-Killer”:

My transcript:

Zaun: I’m Brad Zaun, and I approved this message.

Female voice-over: Leonard Boswell says the country is headed on the right path. [screen shows photo of Boswell next to Des Moines Register clipping with headline, “Boswell says nation heading on right path”]

Try telling that to the 114,000 Iowans that [sic] are out of work. [screen shows photo of sad-looking couple with child, photo of store going out of business, words “114,000 Iowans out of work”]

Boswell voted for billions in failed stimulus spending [screen shows Boswell against backdrop of U.S. Capitol, words, “$787 billion failed stimulus” Source HR 1, 01/28/09]

Wall Street bailouts [Screen shows words “Wall Street Greed” Source: HR 1424, 10/03/08]

and then, voted to gut Medicare for Iowa seniors. [screen shows “$500 Billion Medicare Cuts” Source: HR 3590, 03/23/10]

This might be the “right path” for Boswell and his Washington friends [screen shows photo of Boswell standing behind smirking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, words “Washington Friends”]

But Iowa families are the ones who pay the price for his votes. [screen shows same sad family, now parents seem to be consoling crying child; also photo of house with foreclosure sign and words “Iowa families pay the price.”]

It’s smart for Zaun to hit Boswell on the “right path” comment. Polls show most Americans don’t feel the country is on the right track. The 2009 stimulus prevented the country from sinking into a deeper recession and unquestionably created jobs in Iowa and elsewhere, but it’s hard for Democrats to campaign on “It could have been worse!”

It was dumb for Congressional Democrats to vote for George Bush’s Wall Street bailout in October 2008. I’m not surprised Boswell is getting hammered for that.

Zaun’s last claim relates to the new health insurance reform, which is partly paid for by future cuts in Medicare. Incidentally, a couple of months ago Zaun’s campaign was bashing Boswell from the opposite side of this very issue:

“Every day, we find out more information of what the health care bills passed by Leonard Boswell will cost us. This new law is not only a monumental power grab, it’s a monumental black hole of new federal expenses. And from the beginning, Congressman Boswell hasn’t been honest with the taxpayers as to the real cost of this bill,” Zaun noted.

Zaun pointed to a new government report which questions the projected Medicare savings in the new healthcare overhaul. Changes in the Medicare program were originally projected to ‘save’ $575 billion over the next 10 years. This report, authored by the Chief Actuary for Medicare, labels those projected savings as “unreasonable” and “implausible.”

Zaun continued, “First, we had the revelation in May by the CBO that, ‘oops, the health care bill will actually cost billions more than we estimated.’ Now, we have the Chief Actuary for Medicare saying that in no uncertain terms, the ‘savings’ Congress told us about won’t materialize.”

Make up your mind, Mr. Zaun. If the $500 billion in Medicare cuts aren’t really going to happen, then why are you running a tv ad claiming Boswell voted to “gut Medicare for Iowa seniors”?

If Boswell weren’t afraid to campaign on the health insurance reform, he might point out that he helped negotiate new Medicare reimbursement rates for Iowa physicians and increased Medicare payments to “tweener” hospitals. By not talking much about his own record in Congress, Boswell has created an opening for Zaun to use this and other House votes against him.

Zaun’s second current tv ad is called “Recovery”:

My transcript:

Zaun: I’m Brad Zaun, and I approved this message.

Footage of Boswell: There are strong signs that the economy is becoming–beginning to recover.

Female voice-over: This is Leonard Boswell’s recovery. Unemployment is up. [screen shows The Washington Times, “Unemployment rises to 9.6%”]

Home foreclosures are up. [screen shows “The Des Moines Register, Iowa foreclosures hit new high”]

Job losses are up. [screen shows “Iowa Workforce Development: Iowa Unemployment Rate at 6.8%”]

And our faith in the federal government is down. [screen shows Boswell standing against backdrop of Capitol, big red arrow points downward]

If Leonard Boswell thinks we’re in a recovery, it’s clear he just doesn’t understand. [screen shows Boswell from earlier clip, with word “RECOVERY,” then words “Boswell just doesn’t understand.”]

Zaun, standing in front of hardware display: The choice in this election is clear. If you think we need a new direction in Washington, I’d appreciate your vote.

Despite the low production values, this seems like a decent ad to me. Technically, we are in a recovery, but it doesn’t feel like one to many Americans. Zaun offers himself as a generic opponent to the track we’re on. The biggest problem is that it doesn’t mention Zaun’s name multiple times. Also, at the very end it says “Paid for by Zaun for Congress” but doesn’t show the campaign website address on screen.

Zaun’s other tactic of late is going for sympathy regarding the Democratic attacks on his personal finances. Boswell raised this issue in a television commercial I didn’t like, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee cited Zaun’s past money problems in direct mail. I thought Zaun handled this issue well during his October 8 interview on KCCI-TV’s news program:

I think it’s really unfortunate that it’s all this personal negative attack. I challenged Congressman Boswell to come up with one commercial that talks about solutions and talks about how we’re gonna head the right direction for this country. And, you know, I’ve been responsible, I’ve always said when I made my announcement that I’ve been through a lot of financial challenges in my life, like so many people in the third Congressional district. But the most important thing is, I paid everyone back. You know, the foreclosure that they talk about, I never went through foreclosure, it’s misleading with the ads. And the tax liens, it was something that was done mostly after I sold my business, and it was immediately dismissed by the IRS. And so you know, I’ve struggled like a lot of people. When I had that hardware store, there was times when I had to pay my employees before I paid myself, and I did get a little behind with my bills. But you know what? I did what my parents have taught me to do. You take personal responsibility, and you dig yourself out of those holes. And I didn’t, and you shouldn’t have to wait around for the government to help you out.

I was less convinced by Zaun’s claim during the KCCI interview that he has worked across partisan lines in the Iowa Senate. I’d like to hear more specifics from him on that record. My impression from following the legislature’s activity is that Zaun is a typical party-line backbencher.

Boswell’s campaign isn’t ready to quit making hay out of Zaun’s financial problems. From today’s Des Moines Register:

“Congressman Boswell faced financial difficulties as a farmer during the 1980s farm crisis; however, he took personal responsibility by tightening his belt and he never missed a payment,” said Grant Woodard, Boswell’s campaign manager.

Zaun’s personal finances became the target of an advertising campaign last week by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The advertisement mailed to homes in the 3rd Congressional District claims Zaun, a state senator and former Urbandale mayor, tried to avoid making payments on his federal taxes and home mortgage.

Zaun, 48, criticized the personal attack as uncivil and inaccurate. Some of his supporters have questioned why Boswell’s own financial difficulties have not received more media scrutiny.

But Woodard said the financial struggles of the two candidates bear few similarities.

“No one ever had to take Leonard Boswell to court to get him to pay his bills,” he said.

Boswell, 76, has never filed for bankruptcy or had tax liens lodged against him, Woodard added.

Last week Zaun complained about the Boswell attacks during his meeting with the Des Moines Register editorial board. He probably had a sympathetic audience; chief political columnist Kathie Obradovich didn’t care for the Boswell ads. With minimal preparation for that interview, Zaun could have locked down the Des Moines Register’s endorsement in my opinion. The Register has supported some Republicans against Boswell before. They endorsed Boswell’s 2008 Democratic primary opponent and only grudgingly backed the incumbent in that year’s general election.

However, it sounds like Zaun bombed in front of the Register’s editorial board. Obradovich’s write-up had the headline “Zaun still in the shallow end on issues”:

So it was disappointing today, during his interview with the Register editorial board, to see him again offering little more than bumper-sticker positions, thimble-deep knowledge of the issues and an emaciated body of ideas.

Zaun spent a considerable amount of time during the hourlong meeting complaining about the attack ads that Democratic incumbent Leonard Boswell and national Democrats have run against him. As I wrote last month, I think the ads amount to personal attacks that are unworthy of Boswell.

But when it comes to issues, Zaun still seems way out of his element. On immigration, for example, Zaun stresses that he does not favor a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally. But he says it would be impractical to deport them and instead he wants to expedite the red tape and get them “into the process.”

Asked if that’s not, in fact, a path to citizenship, Zaun seems befuddled. It’s the “legal process,” he says.

His approach to the federal budget has not progressed from decrying ballooning government spending. He’ll protect entitlements, the military, infrastructure spending and he’d secure the border. He’ll cut out earmarks, which amount to about 1 percent of the budget. He won’t raise taxes.

When pushed to identify spending he’d cut, he says he doesn’t think we need the Department of Energy. He doesn’t know what the department does, he says, as if that proves we must not need it. He’d continue the Bush tax cuts, all of them, but he’s not sure how much that would add to the budget deficit. He’s confident the cuts will spur enough economic growth to reverse the deficit trend.

It baffles me that with so much on the line, Zaun didn’t do more homework before meeting the Register editors. He had to know they were going to ask him policy questions. I wouldn’t exaggerate the importance of a newspaper endorsement, but the Register still has a sizable audience in IA-03, and Zaun is looking more like the underdog in what’s officially a “tossup” race.

This week the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee finally released an internal poll for this district:

A new Bennett, Petts and Normington poll shows Representative Leonard Boswell leading Republican challenger Brad Zaun by 8 percent.  Boswell leads Zaun 49 percent to 41 percent.  Conducted October 3-4, the poll surveyed 400 likely voters and has a 4.9 percent margin of error.

Internal polls should be viewed skeptically, but Boswell must have improved his standing significantly. If the DCCC had had poll numbers like this in July or August, they would have released them to counter Republican polling that showed Zaun ahead by as much as 10 points. According to Cityview’s Civic Skinny, “internal polls from both parties now show Boswell ahead.” The last week in September, IA-03 dropped out of the National Journal’s list of top 60 U.S. House seats that could change parties. Often Washington-based analysts have access to polling data that hasn’t been published.

One factor working against Zaun is the lack of support from national GOP celebrities and organizations. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele did a small rally for Zaun in late September, but he hasn’t had high-profile campaign events comparable to Vice President Joe Biden’s fundraiser for Boswell in Des Moines today. (I’ll update this post later with links on Biden’s speech.)

As Bleeding Heartland predicted this summer, the National Republican Congressional Committee never committed to the IA-03 race. The NRCC didn’t even promote Zaun to the top level of its “Young Guns” program. Instead, IA-02 challenger Mariannette Miller-Meeks made the cut in a district far less favorable to Republicans. The NRCC upgraded IA-01’s Ben Lange too, presumably because of the American Future Fund’s heavy spending against Bruce Braley.

Without significant financial support from the NRCC, Zaun’s campaign has been able to afford only a small presence on radio and television. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent at least $270,000 in IA-03 so far on direct mail and advertising, including two negative television commercials on Zaun. I discussed the first DCCC ad here. The second hit central Iowa airwaves this week:

My transcript:

Kathy Essex of  Des Moines: I’m Kathy Essex, I own Mr. Bibb’s tenderloins going on 20 years. I got a call from my dad, and he said the levee broke. [footage of her restaurant now, and also of Des Moines during a big flood]

Words appear on black screen: Congressional candidate Brad Zaun opposed relief for flood victims. Source: HF 2564, 4/02/08

Essex speaks as screen shows photo of her restaurant’s destroyed kitchen: It took us four months to get it cleaned up.

Essex on camera again: We replaced the windows ourselves, we learned how to rebuild the fryers.

Words appear on black screen: Brad Zaun accused flood victims of forgetting “personal responsibility.” Source: Zaun remarks, 3/26/10

Essex on camera again: He doesn’t know what it means to take personal responsibility. He wasn’t in our shoes.

Footage of people walking into Mr. Bibb’s restaurant now. Male voice-over: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

Zaun has said his remarks about “personal responsibility” in March were taken out of context. Unfortunately for him, he did vote against various flood-related bills in the Iowa Senate. Those include the bill cited in the DCCC ad, which expanded eligibility for Iowa disaster aid individual assistance grants, and the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding program.

I don’t consider Boswell out of the woods yet. The AFL-CIO has sent out at least three direct-mail pieces attacking Zaun. Jason Hancock posted the latest one at Iowa Independent. It highlights a Republican pledge Zaun signed not to raise taxes on corporations. The AFL-CIO says Zaun would keep a loophole in place that allows U.S. companies to profit from shipping jobs overseas. An earlier AFL-CIO mailer criticized Zaun for opposing federal fiscal aid for education this summer. Boswell voted for that bill, which is estimated to have saved 1,800 Iowa teachers’ jobs. The DCCC and AFL-CIO wouldn’t bother spending more money against Zaun if they thought he had no chance to win.

One possible lifeline for Zaun: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce plans to spend about $183,000 against Boswell. To my knowledge, none of the chamber’s commercials have started running yet in Iowa. If they make an effective case against Boswell, Zaun will benefit despite controversy over who paid for the advertising. Democrats and allies have blasted the Chamber of Commerce for raising money from foreign corporations and refusing to disclose how they prevent foreign donations from funding ads in the U.S. Think Progress has more details on that story. Chamber of Commerce head Tom Donohue dodged Graham Gillette’s question about foreign donations during a speech last week in Des Moines.

Share any thoughts about the IA-03 campaign in this thread.

UPDATE: IowaPolitics.com on today’s Biden event:

Biden said the president is “breaking his neck” to help create jobs and help small businesses, while Republicans have done nothing but vote against tax plans by Democrats, and want to help hedge fund managers. He said the Obama administration is setting out to create whole new industries in green energy like wind and solar power and ethanol, while Republicans led by special interest money in big oil are trying to stop that. The vice president said Karl Rove’s “secret millionaire group” is raising money to battle Democrats and he noted that an Iowan helped to start the America’s Future Fund to do the same. He also challenged the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to “show me the money” if they are not using foreign money to spend on American elections, and he said that by obtaining foreign money for Chamber operations, it frees up other money to spend on political campaigns.

“I don’t have anything against Karl Rove personally,” Biden said. But he contended that Rove and his friends were “architects of the policy that drove us into this hole.”

SECOND UPDATE: The New York Times and FactCheck.org found no evidence to support Democratic claims that foreign money is funding Chamber of Commerce advertising. I don’t find it any more comforting that the chamber is raising tens of millions of dollars in undisclosed domestic corporate donations. Congress should have closed loopholes that allow 501(c)6s like the chamber and 501(c)4s like the American Future Fund to avoid disclosing donors, but neither party stands for meaningful campaign finance reform.

William Petroski covered the Biden event for the Des Moines Register:

Americans have reason to be angry, said the vice president, who heaped blame on Republicans for decimating the lives of millions of Americans and thousands of Iowans who have lost jobs, been unable to make mortgage payments, and have seen the value of their retirement savings evaporate. He recounted an often-told story of how his father had to leave his family in Scranton, Pa., for Delaware in search of work, adding he knows that many Iowans face similar hardships.

“Folks are hurting. When the president and I ran for office, we made no bones about it. We told you it was going to be incredibly difficult” to turn around the economy and make other reforms, Biden said. He and President Barack Obama also knew they would face strong opposition from special interests, he added.

Under the Bush administration, “Wall Street was running wild” and gambling with peoples’ savings, Biden said. Many people also lack access to health care and foreign policy was in disarray, he added. But financial reform has done away with abuses, and Obama’s health reform measures will provide more access to  health care and cut long-term health care costs, he added. He also noted that Obama has brought 100,000 troops home from Iraq.

“We are climbing out of this God awful hole that the Republicans led us into. We are doing it with help from Congressmen like Leonard Boswell,” Biden said.

Zaun’s campaign manager T.J. Maloney issued a statement in response to Biden’s speech.

“The Vice President is right … there is a stark difference between the two candidates. Leonard Boswell voted for ObamaCare, which is putting Iowa insurance companies out of business. He voted for Cap and Trade, which would have destroyed Iowa agriculture. He shipped our tax dollars and our jobs overseas with his support of cash for clunkers, TARP, and the Wall Street bailout. We’re still waiting for the Biden/Boswell Summer of Recovery, and so are 114,000 unemployed Iowans,” Maloney said.

Democrats like Boswell would be in better shape if Congress and the Obama administration had done a better job on financial reform. It’s pretty ridiculous for Biden to claim the Wall Street abuses have ended. The administration’s policy on foreclosures has been a sick joke. I also doubt people will give Democrats credit for Obama bringing 100,000 troops home from Iraq when he’s greatly escalated our troop presence in Afghanistan.

The Zaun campaign message also has lots of hyperbole. For instance, Boswell insisted on lots of concessions for Iowa conventional agriculture before he agreed to vote for the “cap and trade” proposal. He and like-minded House Democrats got many weakening amendments added to that climate change bill.

THIRD UPDATE: During the October 13 noon newscast on KCCI-TV in Des Moines, I saw the first Chamber of Commerce ad against Boswell. It’s a very typical anti-Democratic incumbent ad. I don’t have the video, but here is the transcript (I taped the commercial so I could get the text verbatim):

Male voice-over: Unemployment. Spending. Debt. Washington’s broken, and Congressman Leonard Boswell’s policies are making it worse. Boswell voted for Nancy Pelosi’s trillion-dollar big government health care. And Boswell voted to gut Medicare by 500 billion dollars. Over 60 thousand Iowa seniors face reduced benefits because of Boswell. Government-run health care. Medicare cuts. Have you had enough? Tell Congressman Boswell, stop hurting Iowa families. The US Chamber is responsible for the content of this advertising.

I like the way the chamber juxtaposes “big government health care” (boo!) with Medicare cuts (boo!). If they hate government-run health care, they shouldn’t pretend to be against Medicare cuts.

FOURTH UPDATE: On October 13 Boswell’s campaign released partial numbers from an internal poll conducted from October 3-5 by Anzalone Liszt Research. Boswell leads Zaun 47 percent to 38 percent and has a 49 percent favorable/42 percent unfavorable rating. Zaun was at 34 percent favorable/38 percent unfavorable. The poll sampled 500 “likely 2010 General Election voters” in IA-03, but didn’t provide details about the likely voter screen or the partisan and age breakdown of the sample. The polling memo said the random sampling was geographically based on past voter turnout.

  • I hate t he bailout and the mandates bill

    so long as conservadems like him control the democratic party you might  as well vote republican.  I am voting for socialist worker party candidate Rebecca Williamson.  I know she won’t win but she will spoil a blue dog democrat and that makes voting for her fully justified, in my view.  If the dems want my vote they should quit nominating neoliberals like Boswell and Quirmbach.  Now I have to come up with a writin so I can avoid voting for quirmbach.  The other democratic candidates on my slate are ok and I’ll vote for them.

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