AG race: New Findley ad plays the Branstad card

Attorney general candidate Brenna Findley needs a strong Republican wave to defeat the better-known 28-year incumbent Tom Miller, and her new television commercial features a visual endorsement from GOP gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad.

The ad, script and some commentary are below.

My annotated transcript:

Findley speaking to a cheering crowd: We're gonna clean up state government, and make sure that government works for the people. [words Brenna Findley also on screen]

Male voice-over: Brenna Findley will stop the Washington-style spending [Findley talks with man on street, works on papers at official-looking desk, words on screen are "Brenna Findley Stop Washington-style spending]

and start enforcing Iowa's balanced budget rule. [crowd shot of smiling, clapping people holding Brenna Findley signs, words on screen "Balanced Budget rule"]

Findley speaking to crowd: We're gonna get Iowa back on track and back to work. [words on screen "Get Iowa Back to Work"]

Male-voice-over: Brenna Findley will protect our children by catching sexual predators, locking them up and keeping them behind bars. [Findley shakes hands with law enforcement officers, then shot of children, then Findley reading book to school children, then Findley standing in front of law enforcement officer group, words on screen "Brenna Findley LOCK UP Sexual Predators"]

Brenna Findley says Washington does not have the right to force you to buy their hand-picked health insurance, and she'll fight to stop them. [Findley seated, talking to people around conference room table, then talking to other concerned citizens, words on screen "FINDLEY Washington has NO RIGHT to FORCE you to buy health insurance"]

Findley: I'm Brenna Findley, and I'm running to be your next attorney general.

Voice-over: Brenna Findley [as Findley and Terry Branstad stand side by side, waving to cheering crowd]

A politically brilliant ad, and a classic example of a spot that works as well with the sound turned down. The viewer hears Findley's name spoken five times and sees it almost continuously on screen. As in Findley's previous advertising, there is no mention of her longtime boss and mentor, Representative Steve King. She doesn't mention her promise to back off on suing corporations either.

Instead, Iowans are shown an image of Findley as former Governor Terry Branstad's "right hand woman." The shot at the end has the appearance of a victory celebration.

In terms of substance, this commercial continues the misleading Republican messaging on the state budget. We don't have "Washington-style spending," we have a balanced budget with a larger than expected surplus. The allusion to Iowa's balanced budget rule refers to the requirement that the state's general fund spending not exceed 99 percent of projected state revenues. The Iowa legislature has adhered to that rule. Republicans object to how legislators supplemented spending with federal stimulus dollars and money from state reserve funds. They wrongly describe that as deficit spending. It's a political and ideological disagreement, and I find it hard to believe a court would uphold a legal challenge to recent Iowa budgeting practices. Every state used stimulus money to support the state budgets; that was the express purpose of the federal fiscal aid. As I said, general fund spending has not exceeded 99 percent of projected revenues in any Iowa budget.

The attorney general plays no role in "catching" sexual predators. Findley's ad implies that incumbent Attorney General Tom Miller hasn't been locking them up or keeping them behind bars, but cites no specific policies she would change. Maybe that's because Miller has a strong record in this area.

The individual mandate to buy health insurance is one of the most unpopular features of the new federal health care reform law. Miller has explained why he didn't join the multi-state suit against that provision:

First and foremost, the attorney general's office is a law office and has to be bound by the law, not by policy and politics or ideology.  Once you look at the law, the case is very strong that it's constitutional in the legislation.  It all revolves around the mandate that each person would have to get health insurance.  The question is does congress have the power to do that, and it's all under the commerce power.  Commerce power, as interpreted by the courts by all nine justices, is saying if something is interstate commerce or affects interstate commerce, congress has the authority.  Well, when people don't get health insurance, some of them get sick, some of them get injured, they end up in the hospital.  The estimates are that a number of billion dollars each year is provided in care.  Clearly that has an effect on the whole system. Clearly that has an effect on interstate commerce.  So, you know, when you're attorney general, you have to follow the law.  That's what I've done and that's where the law leads in this case.

One federal judge has already dismissed a legal challenge to the individual mandate brought by four Michigan residents. A similar lawsuit filed by 20 states is pending in another federal court. This case will be litigated, and the outcome will be the same for Iowans regardless of whether our attorney general joined the effort.

The end of Findley's ad suggests that she will be elected on Terry Branstad's coattails. Branstad has led Governor Chet Culver in all polls of the governor's race. In July, Miller was asked about the prevailing political atmosphere and responded,

There is an anti-incumbent mood, but voters have always been discerning, particularly in the state races.  They've -- when I first got elected, Bob Ray won 60-40, I won 56-44. Voters in the end tend to be discerning and will be.

All four times Branstad was elected governor, Democrats won the attorney general's race: Miller in 1982, 1986 and 1994, and Bonnie Campbell in 1990 after Miller unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor. Miller may be able to ride out a Republican wave, especially if Culver narrows the gap between himself and Branstad, as the Democrat's internal polling suggests.

That said, Findley is running a better campaign than any of Miller's previous challengers. Miller should take nothing for granted and needs to work hard during these last two weeks. I think his campaign should emphasize this kind of message:

Henderson: Republicans have historically accused democrats of being unfriendly to business.  Both of your republican opponents have made some specific charges in this regard.  Mr. Miller, your republican opponent, Brenna Findley, says that you're too quick to sue businesses and as attorney general she would not be so quick to sue to grab a headline, in her words.  How do you respond to that?

Miller: Well, one of the most important things we do in the attorney general's office is protecting consumers, and that's always been a passion for me because that relates to the ordinary person.  It's very important to them and very important that government serve them.  You have to be fair to business, you know.  It takes us a long time to make a decision to sue, and we have to make some very important decisions when we file lawsuits because we can't file a whole lot.  What we look at is, what is the abuse?  What have consumers suffered?  What is the law?  And what is our chances of winning?  And if we win, what do we accomplish for consumers and how do we be fair?  We still have to be fair to businesses, and that's been part of -- part of my professionalism, part of how I do things.  So with business, I've been tough but fair. That's appropriate for them and that's really good for consumers.  If you -- if you give businesses more slack, consumers are going to be abused and abused considerably.

Over the weekend, Miller and Findley taped a joint appearance on Iowa Public Television, which will be broadcast on October 22 and 24. The candidates will debate in Iowa City on October 20.

Share any thoughts about the attorney general's race in this thread.

UPDATE: Branstad's latest television commercial also includes the tag line "Get Iowa Back to Work."

SECOND UPDATE: Sad that there won't be any network television broadcast of the attorney general candidates' debate. Cable schedule:

Mediacom MC22 (Network wide)

2 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 26

11 a.m., Sunday, Oct. 31

Mediacom MC22 (Cedar Rapids/Iowa City market only)

7 a.m., Sunday, Oct. 24

8 p.m., Monday, Oct. 25

7 a.m., Sunday, Oct. 31

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