IA-03: Closing arguments for Leonard Boswell and Brad Zaun

In a few hours we’ll know whether seven-term Representative Leonard Boswell foiled Iowa Republicans again. For months the third Congressional district was considered a tossup race, and Republican Brad Zaun led in two GOP internal polls released this summer. However, Boswell has led the most recent polls. The Hill commissioned a survey in mid-October that found Boswell beating Zaun 49 percent to 37 percent. According to Tim Sahd’s final rankings for the National Journal, IA-03 isn’t among 90 House seats most likely to change hands.

If Boswell survives a Republican wave election, it will be good news for Iowa Democrats, but not for people who hate negative political advertising. Beginning in August, Boswell and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee simply buried Zaun. Bleeding Heartland discussed early commercials for this race here and here. Details on the closing arguments from both sides are after the jump.

Boswell and Zaun both performed reasonably well in their sole debate on October 25, but most voters in the third district weren’t watching that policy discussion. They could hardly miss the television commercials, though. Stations in the Des Moines market have been saturated with Boswell, Zaun and DCCC ads.

Around October 21 Zaun’s campaign started running “Too Wrong for Too Long”:

My transcript:

Zaun: I’m Brad Zaun, and I approved this message. [photo of Zaun with Zaun for Congress logo]

Male voice-over: Leonard Boswell has been wrong a lot over the past 14 years. [photo of Boswell, words on screen in broken-looking font, “WRONG for 14 Years”]

He told us we could keep our health insurance. [Photo of sad-looking parents comforting a child; words on screen “Principal cuts 1,500 jobs, exiting health care business,” Des Moines Register Oct 1, 2010, plus OBAMACARE in broken-looking large font]

Wrong! [word WRONG appears on top of Boswell photo]

He supported the largest tax increases in American history. [photo of Boswell standing with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, words “JOB-KILLING TAXES” appear on screen, with specific House roll call votes in small print near bottom]

Wrong! [word WRONG appears on top of Boswell photo]

He said the stimulus and bailout bills were successes. [different photo of Boswell with Pelosi, quote from U.S. News and World Report, August 26, 2010: “THE MOST FISCALLY IRRESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT IN U.S. HISTORY”

Wrong! [word WRONG appears on top of Boswell photo]

Boswell cut 500 billion dollars from Medicare. [sad-looking older couple, words “$500 Billion Medicare Cuts”]

Wrong! [word WRONG appears on top of Boswell photo]

And now he runs a slanderous campaign to cover it all up. [quote from Des Moines Register, October 10, 2010, “A sorry case of hit-and-run campaigning”, below in larger print, “Slanderous Campaign”]

That’s just wrong! [word WRONG appears on top of Boswell photo]

Leonard Boswell: too wrong for too long. [photo of Boswell next to words TOO WRONG FOR TOO LONG]

I’ll say this for the ad–rhyming slogans are catchy. I still don’t see why tying Boswell to Nancy Pelosi is going to work better now than it worked for previous Republican opponents.

Many Republican candidates and conservative groups have run tv ads featuring that claim about $500 billion in Medicare cuts. It’s not true, but I wouldn’t be surprised if most Americans believe it by now.

Boswell’s advertising hasn’t been pretty. Picking on Iowa Senate votes and stupid public comments by Zaun is fair game in my opinion, but I don’t like the way the Boswell campaign depicted Zaun as unfit for Congress because of past financial problems. Lots of people have been threatened with foreclosure, and the tax liens against Zaun were dismissed.

Zaun mentioned Boswell’s “slanderous hit and run campaign” many times during the candidates’ debate last week. Boswell’s defense of the strategy sounded weak. Zaun apparently decided this was the best angle for closing out the campaign, because a commercial starring Zaun’s wife Dede hit the Des Moines airwaves on October 28:

My transcript:

Zaun: I’m Brad Zaun, and I approved this message. [photo of Zaun with Zaun for Congress logo]

Dede Zaun speaking to camera: My husband Brad is running for Congress. I knew it would be tough, but what I didn’t expect was Leonard Boswell’s ugly personal attacks on my husband and our family. [family photo of the couple with five children]

Dede Zaun back on camera: Mr. Boswell, your negative campaign is disgraceful. If you’d fought harder for our jobs, you wouldn’t need to sink so low to keep yours.

I’m voting for Brad Zaun, not because he’s my husband, but because I know the truth.

It’s a big gamble for the candidate to let his spouse make the final sale with voters. Many people could have been turned off by the attack ads, so perhaps Dede Zaun could drum up a sympathy vote. But I think Zaun should have run this ad a month ago and spoken directly to voters himself at the end of the campaign.

Speaking of attack ads, Boswell has kept one of those in rotation during the final weeks of the campaign, but at last he introduced a positive ad as well. The negative one is “Who do you trust with your money?”:

My transcript:

Boswell: I’m Leonard Boswell, and I approved this message.

Male voice-over: Who do you trust with your money? With your future?

It’s not Brad Zaun. Even after the bailout, Zaun opposed Wall Street reform. And now he wants to give them more of our money.

Brad Zaun wants to privatize Social Security, cutting the guaranteed monthly benefit and giving Wall Street billions more to gamble.

Brad, Wall Street doesn’t need more of our money. That’s our future. Hands off.

At least this commercial addresses Zaun’s stand on policies rather than his personal finances. The problem is, during the debate Zaun denied that he wants to privatize Social Security. The Boswell campaign couldn’t point to any speech or press release in which Zaun advocated privatization. Their source for that claim was that at one campaign event, Zaun told a man, “I agree with everything you just said,” after the man had talked about privatizing Social Security and other issues. That’s very weak sourcing for an accusation at the center of a campaign ad. Even after the debate, Boswell’s campaign left this commercial on the air.

By the way, Boswell had better not be planning to vote for any Social Security cuts that may be recommended by President Obama’s deficit commission. That’s a greater threat to the Social Security program now than Republican efforts to privatize.

Boswell finally started running a positive tv ad about two weeks before election day:

Male voice-over: These are the hands that make Iowa strong. Building our new energy economy. Creating new jobs in businesses big and small. [footage of people’s hands and arms in a variety of workplaces]

And one leader is standing up to anyone who threatens our future: Leonard Boswell. [footage of Boswell with his name on screen]

It’s why Leonard passed new tax cuts to help small businesses expand.

Why he voted to end the tax breaks for companies shipping jobs overseas. Because Leonard Boswell believes that American hands keep America strong.

Boswell: I’m Leonard Boswell, and I approved this message.

Pretty standard fare. The economy is a top issue for voters, so Boswell naturally wants to promote his record on job creation. In previous commercials he had already contrasted his record on biofuels with Zaun’s pledge to do “nothing” for that industry.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has continued to pound Zaun for saying earlier this year that when there’s a flood, people expect the government to step in and have forgotten about “personal responsibility.” As in earlier ads, the DCCC depicts Zaun as not one of us. Iowans Respond to Brad Zaun’s lecture was on the air in Des Moines for the last two weeks of the campaign:

Words on screen: Brad Zaun lectures Iowans about flood relief.

Clip of Zaun speaking on March 26: “What has been forgotten is personal responsibility.”

Words on screen: Iowans respond.

Rebecca Ekstrand: Why would you say that when you have a natural disaster like that?

Spencer Pierce: People lost everything. They didn’t forget about personal responsibility.

Judy Burns: Where is his compassion?

Duane Ahrens: I think that Brad Zaun is not in touch with reality.

Alexandra Canas: It’s hard to believe he’s from Iowa.

Zaun clip: “Personal responsibility.” [words on screen: Brad Zaun. Not For Us. www.ZaunFacts.com ]

Male voice-over: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

Zaun’s comment was stupid, but if the DCCC wanted to build a case about his lack of compassion, they should focus on his his votes against flood relief in the Iowa Senate.

The DCCC also ran a radio ad against Zaun for the final seven to ten days of the campaign. I couldn’t get hold of the script, but I heard it several times in the car. It has the sound of a police officer responding to a call and goes over the 2001 incident in which a West Des Moines officer warned Zaun to stay away from his ex-girlfriend. I was disturbed by the report, and probably other women would be too, which is why the DCCC cut an ad on the subject. Bringing that up in a commercial isn’t taking the high road, and it makes me wonder if their internal polling on the race is still making them nervous.

If Boswell wins tonight, campaign professionals will be convinced yet again that negative ads work, even in a Republican wave year.

If Boswell is re-elected again, he should retire before the next election. The kind of campaign he ran against Zaun might work against a flawed opponent with a small campaign treasury. Against a stronger, well-financed candidate, or against Representative Tom Latham (who may run in the redrawn IA-03 in 2012), this stuff isn’t going to fly.

Reports this afternoon indicate that turnout in Polk County, where about half of the IA-03 population lives, was on track to exceed 2006 levels. That could be good for Boswell, since Democrats have a voter registration edge in the county, or it could be good for Zaun, since turnout was high in the Republican-held county supervisor districts 1 and 2. As the former mayor of Urbandale and a state senator since 2004, Zaun has a large base in the western suburbs and some Des Moines neighborhoods. Democrats in IA-03 cast more early votes than Republicans.

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