Why yes, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill wanted to make sure that Rep. Todd Akin won the 2012 Missouri GOP primary so that she could kick his ass in the general, and at this point she’s bragging to WIN THE MORNING about how she helped make that happen.
Akin’s track record made him my ideal opponent. Many of his votes in Congress contradicted his claim of being a fiscal conservative. While he opposed President Barack Obama’s authority to raise the debt limit, during the Bush administration, in 2004, he had voted to raise the limit by $800 billion. A vocal opponent of the Obama administration’s stimulus efforts, in 2001 Akin had voted in favor of a $25 billion stimulus package that mostly benefited large corporations and the wealthy. And he was a big earmarker: in one fiscal year he sponsored or cosponsored $14 million worth of pork and once sought $3.3 million in a special appropriation for a highway near nine acres he owned and was planning to develop. While opposing spending money for child nutrition programs, veterans’ health benefits, and disaster relief, he repeatedly voted to raise his own salary.
His extreme positions on social issues and ridiculous public statements made him anathema to many independent voters. He sponsored an amendment that would define life as beginning at conception, thereby outlawing common forms of birth control. He voted against repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” legislation. When the Affordable Care Act was being debated, he stood on the House floor and asked for God’s help in keeping the nation from “socialized medicine.” In 2008, he claimed in a House floor speech that it was “common practice” for doctors to conduct abortions on women “who were not actually pregnant.” He had made speeches calling for America to pull out of the United Nations and claiming the government had “a bunch of socialists in the Senate” and a “commie” in the White House.
So how could we maneuver Akin into the GOP driver’s seat?
Using the guidance of my campaign staff and consultants, we came up with the idea for a “dog whistle” ad, a message that was pitched in such a way that it would be heard only by a certain group of people. I told my team we needed to put Akin’s uber-conservative bona fides in an ad—and then, using reverse psychology, tell voters not to vote for him. And we needed to run the hell out of that ad.
My consultants put together a $1.7 million plan. Four weeks out we would begin with a television ad boosting Akin, which my campaign consultant Mike Muir dubbed “A Cup of Tea.” The production costs were pretty low, about $20,000, because we didn’t have to film anything. We just used pictures and voice-overs. We would spend $750,000 at first and run it for eight or nine days. Then we’d go back into the field and test to see if it was working. If it was, we’d dump in more “McCaskill for Senate” money, and we’d add radio and more TV in St. Louis and Kansas City. The second TV buy would approach $900,000. We hoped that some of our friends watching the TV ads would catch on and some of the outside groups would augment the last week with mail and radio. Sure enough, a radio ad calling Akin “too conservative” that went on the air in the closing days of the primary was paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. We would later find out that their rural radio buy was $250,000.
As it turned out, we spent more money for Todd Akin in the last two weeks of the primary than he spent on his whole primary campaign.
Not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, buying a general election opponent just to clean their clock is something a good politician shouldn’t have to do.
On the other hand, it worked and most importantly, McCaskill is in the Senate and Todd Akin is most certainly not, and I’m frankly more than okay with that.
Given the fact that a similar situation is shaping up here in Kentucky for governor this November, if Republican primary voters want to put the craziest mofo up to run against a Democrat in a red state, well I’m not going to stop them. And if ad buys by the Democrat help make that happen, well it wouldn’t be the first time.
We’ll see if Jack Conway can pull off the win against Matt Bevin here in Kentucky the same way Claire McCaskill beat Todd Akin.