Running as Outsiders, With a Catch: They’re In
By Jennifer Steinhauer, NY Times, September 23, 2012
WASHINGTON—In one of his campaign advertisements, Joe Heck emphasizes his long career as a physician taking care of elderly patients. Dan Benishek, in an ad, refers with a tinge of sadness to the “career politician” who is competing with him for a House seat. Ann Kirkpatrick informs viewers that she is extremely fond of driving.
In one ad, Representative Joe Heck of Nevada stresses his experience as a physician, particularly in treating older patients.
Representative Dan Benishek of Michigan, also a doctor, refers to his opponent as a “career politician” in a campaign ad.
Ann Kirkpatrick, a former congresswoman trying to regain an Arizona seat, has told voters she enjoys driving to meet them.
What the two men do not say is that they are members of Congress—Heck a Republican from Nevada and Benishek a Republican from Michigan—and Ms. Kirkpatrick does not say that she is a former Democratic congresswoman from Arizona looking to get her job back.
Bragging about one’s voting record used to be a staple of political advertising, and a career in Congress was worn as a badge of honor. But this year, many House candidates are deciding not to mention their service here, a blunt acknowledgment of the dim view that a vast majority of voters have of Congress.
In acts of great creativity, or profound chutzpah, some members, former and current, are shrouding their jobs with fuzzy images of cute children back home or tales of their private sector jobs. Where incumbents are being challenged by former members, the sitting members of Congress are painting their opponents as consummate insiders.
“With record low job approval, it’s not surprising that incumbents aren’t anxious to highlight their ties to Washington,” said Nathan L. Gonzales, deputy editor of The Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan political publication.
Mr. Heck, in an ad that refers to him as “Dr. Joe Heck,” speaks about his father’s heart attack and points out that “as a doctor I’ve cared for thousands of seniors.” For good measure, he adds at the end, “I’m Dr. Joe Heck, and I approved this message.”
In an ad promoting Mr. Benishek, also a doctor, the narrator asks ominously, “Would you trust a career politician to save Medicare?” referring to his Democratic challenger, Gary McDowell. The voice then goes on about Mr. Benishek’s career as a doctor.
Mr. McDowell is a politician—a former Chippewa County commissioner and former Michigan state representative—but an uninformed viewer of Mr. Benishek’s ad might assume that he has spent the last two years behind a stethoscope instead of in the well of the House. (For his part, Mr. McDowell is more excited in his own ad to talk about his life as a hay farmer from whom, he says not once but twice, Washington could learn much.)
A particularly rich poke comes from Representative Tom Latham, Republican of Iowa, who is running against Representative Leonard L. Boswell, a Democrat, whom Mr. Latham refers to in the ad as a “longtime Congressman” even though Mr. Boswell has not served as long as Mr. Latham.
When possible, members like to point out the former ties to Washington of their challengers. One example is an ad produced for Representative Ann Marie Buerkle, Republican of New York, in which “voter” after “voter” refers to her opponent, a one-term former Democratic representative and former Capitol Hill staff member, Dan Maffei, as “DC Dan Maffei.”
Although it is Ms. Buerkle who is currently serving in the House, the ad is meant “to convey the message that he is the consummate Washington insider,” said David Ray, a spokesman for her campaign. “This is a guy who runs fancy ads touting his supposed roots in Central New York when he spent almost his entire adult life in D.C.”
Members sometimes pretend theirs are new voices, like Representative Vern Buchanan, Republican of Florida, who says he has policy ideas “because Washington needs to hear this.”
Then there is Kristi Noem, Republican of South Dakota, whose ad features dramatic music, cowboys and a woman hanging laundry and is capped by Ms. Noem—“one of us”—galloping away on a horse.
“Kristi is a wife, mother, farmer and rancher,” said Tom Erickson, Ms. Noem’s campaign manager. “She has spent her entire life here in South Dakota. She relies on her South Dakota values and common sense in her approach to problems like our staggering national debt. That’s the message we’re conveying in the ad.”
The ad does not, however, mention that she has been serving the cowboys in her district for the better part of two years.