Why Early GOP Attack on Rep. Lois Capps Matters


It’s no accident that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge made a high-profile stop in Santa Barbara on their recent trip to the state, given the burg’s standing as your run-of-the-mill, middle-class California community.

With a median annual household income of $86.8 billion, some of the most valuable real estate on the planet and the nickname “American Riviera,” S.B. offered the royals an up-close-and-personal look at the everyday, average concerns of average Californians, like a shortage of polo pony housing, the soaring costs of plastic surgery and chronic problems in finding good help.

It is just for this reason that Calbuzz located our Southern California headquarters in the town, a decision that goes a long way in explaining our unerring ability to keep our finger squarely on the pulse of ordinary, Main Street, mainstream Golden State voters.*

The latest evidence of the area’s special status as a benchmark in state politics is being viewed on TVs around the region this week, as a Karl Rove-backed, secretly financed, Citizens United-enabled,  “independent” campaign group launched a broadcast and cable attack on veteran Democratic Representative Lois Capps.

Who shot JFK? Accusing Capps of “reckless spending,” Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies blames the seven-term congresswoman for the national debt, the recession and everything else but the Kennedy assassination. The attack comes in a 30-second ad, now running in personalized form in the districts of nine other Democratic House incumbents across the nation whom Republicans perceive as vulnerable, as well as in states of a half-dozen Senators with a “D” after their names who face re-election next year.

The group made a fairly serious buy for the spot – about 800 points is what we hear — far more than another negative ad aimed at Capps that aired briefly a few weeks ago. That spot, which appeared only on local Fox News channels, was produced by the National Republican Congressional Committee and accused Capps of wanting to “decimate Medicare,” because she voted for Obama’s health care legislation.

Both ads were largely discredited by non-partisan fact checks – here and here. However, by squeezing Capps in a pincer movement – she’s dismantling government health care for seniors at the same time she’s spending them into the poor house – their sudden appearance, more than 15 months before the election, at the very least has had Bill Carrick, the congresswoman’s longtime consultant, scrambling to respond.

Carrick quickly posted a web-only ad that jiu-jitsued the Medicare charge  by calling out Capps’ two most likely GOP challengers – Abel Maldonado and Tea Party favorite Tom Watson, who lost to her last time out – by demanding they make clear their stances on the Ryan plan. That is the Republican’s proposal to transform Medicare into a voucher program (Watson enthusiastically endorses Ryan; Maldo didn’t respond to a request for comment on it).

As for the Crossroads/Rove spending ad, Carrick says that “Central Coast voters don’t need any help from Karl Rove or his Washington cronies in telling them how to vote.”

Which doesn’t mean Turd Blossom won’t offer.

Here come the bullets. Beyond the claims and counter-claims, however, the extremely early volley of campaign ads in the Capps district is significant in underlining three key features of the 2012 political landscape:

Redistricting. The aggressiveness with which Republicans have gone after the 73-year old Capps reflects the belief that they can run much more competitively against her in a redrawn district than in her old, gerrymandered seat, a far-flung stretch of California which reapportionment reformers derided as “the ribbon of shame.”

In her current 23rd district, Capps enjoys a 19-point advantage of registered Democrats over Republican voters (47-28 percent); with new lines proposed by the citizens redistricting commission,  Democrats would have only a 39-35 percent edge. And Latinos, among whom Capps runs well, would represent just 35 percent of the new district’s population, compared to 50 percent now, according to an analysis prepared for us by redistricting whiz Eric McGhee over at PPIC.

Citizens United. The latest attack on Capps is part of an overall $20 million Rove/Crossroads effort to soften up vulnerable Democrats. The  anonymity guaranteed to donors to such committees, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizen United decision, ensures they will be a huge and hugely powerful weapon in campaigns across the nation.

“We’re going to see more and more of this, where campaigns are conducted by D.C. groups,” Carrick told the Sacbee’s Michael Doyle. “It’s not just going to be Lois Capps; it’s going to be everybody.”

Medicare. It’s telling that the first shot fired at Capps by the GOP’s national congressional committee whacked her on Medicare from the left. National Republicans are terrified of the impact on their House incumbents of voting for the Ryan plan, which every national poll shows is extremely unpopular among voters of all stripes.

While the Ryan bill could give Democrats an extremely effective line of attack, it is also possible that Obama may effectively surrender the issue by reaching a compromise on the debt limit with congressional Republicans that includes changes to Medicare that the GOP could say are similar to those in Ryan’s plan.

*P.S. In all seriousness, Santa Barbara County, if not the city of Santa Barbara, does provide a useful marker offering a clear and compact look at the state’s major political division: Coastal and Inland California.

The south part of S.B. county, like coastal California, votes strongly Democratic and liberal; by contrast, political attitudes in the north half of the county, led by the city of Santa Maria (now more populous than the city of Santa Barbara) are far more conservative, both for partisan candidates, and on issues like agriculture, environment, immigration and oil drilling, mirroring voter tendencies in the Central Valley and the Inland Empire.

So polarized are the views between the two areas — as confirmed by vote analyses of a host of elections over the past decade – that conservatives have made repeated efforts to split the county in two.

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There are 3 comments for this post

  1. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    “National Republicans are terrified of the impact on their House incumbents of voting for the Ryan plan, which every national poll shows is extremely unpopular among voters of all stripes…. it is also possible that Obama may effectively surrender the issue….”

    Nice summary of the problem. The GOP handed Democrats an excellent tool to get elected, and the president could flush it in his desire to be seen as the soul of reason and compromise. He keeps saying he doesn’t care if he wins another term. But some of us do care. For example, those of us who would like to de-Tea the House of Representatives, and who are keeping a careful eye on the age and health of the reasonable wing of the Supreme Court. Or those who aren’t looking forward to a cat-food diet in retirement. Or women.

  2. avatar cbarney says:

    “He keeps saying he doesn’t care if he wins another term. But some of us do care.”

    this is so obvious you would think that obama would know it and would shut up about it. it’s damned insulting to make “his” presidency something private. it isn’t; it belongs to all of us. thanks chris for pointing that out.

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