That's the nasty nickname that Republican groups gave Bloomington physician David Gill in 2012 when he ran for the 13th Congressional District. Gill ultimately lost his fourth bid for Congress to Republican Rodney Davis of Taylorville. Whether the nickname had anything to do with the outcome is anyone's guess, but the gimmick did have several things in its favor: It was catchy. It made people think of the Affordable Care Act, which many did not like or understand. It allowed for television ads in which Gill's face was superimposed on a Frankenstein-esque cartoon body.
Two years later, Davis is gearing up to face a new Democratic opponent, former Madison County judge Ann Callis. Unlike Gill, who was weakened by a hard-fought battle against primary opponent Matt Goetten, Callis was the Democratic Party's chosen candidate from the start. The district, which sweeps through urban areas and college towns including Champaign and Bloomington, is still considered winnable by Democrats.
What I'm saying is that voters should brace themselves for a long eight months. If the Gill-Davis contest is any indication, a nerve-grating concert of television ads, direct mailers and social media campaigns are in store for all of us.
As the Herald & Review reporter covering the race, it will be my unhappy task to pay attention to these things. For those of you who seek more information about your political representatives or who are gluttons for punishment, I will also blog about some of the ads. I will make attempts to provide context, to fact-check if they are blatantly incorrect and to mock them if they deserve it.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is starting things off right with a fun little campaign called “13 Broken Promises.” The website features a simple, clean look with a red-washed Davis (or “The Real Rodney Davis,” as the site calls him) in the header, gesturing and looking as if the camera caught him in an off-moment right before he steals a child's soul.
The ad campaign is clear about where its information comes from, with sources, many of them news articles, cited below each “broken promise.” Some of these are really not so much promises as they are statements. For example, my personal favorite was this quote from Davis in 2012: “Anyone who tries to push for another bill to eliminate Obamacare is stupid.” Now, this certainly contradicts things Davis has said before and since; he told me as recently as a few weeks ago that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act is a realistic goal. It has been a pretty consistent position, and I don't think anyone who voted for Davis is under the illusion that he was a fan of the law. If so, you really misread that one.
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I asked Davis spokesman Andrew Flach for a response to this ad campaign (as I will ask the Callis camp when the Republicans start firing off their volleys). Here's what he said: “The DCCC was attacking Congressman Davis before he even took a single vote in Congress, so it comes as no surprise that they'll spend the next 8 months lying and trying to mislead voters about his record. It's just typical Washington politics, and we think the families of central and southwest Illinois will be able to see right through it.”
I asked for an example of a specific issue with the statements. Flach said one is the site's point about Pell Grants for college students, which Davis said before the 2012 election he would not support cutting. He later voted for the 2014 budget crafted by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, which would have reduced eligibility and frozen funding levels for the grants, had it enjoyed a snowball's chance of passing out of the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Flach said the site didn't mention that Davis also “voted for the bipartisan budget agreement that was approved in December. That budget, which has been signed into law, continues the maximum Pell Grant award to total an expected $5,730 for fiscal year 2014.”
So it's not as simple as Davis hates Pell Grants or Davis loves Pell Grants. It rarely is, and I think that's what we should take from this. There is value in seeing what candidates and parties are saying about each other, but only if you take everything with a grain of salt. Look at the sources, if there are any. Is it a news article? A report by a think tank? A “report” by a “think tank”? Some guy's blog? Look for the context of statements. Try to ignore meaningless, scary adjectives. This stuff should all be obvious, but if everyone did it, there wouldn't be nearly as much empty rhetoric floating around.
But if someone starts dressing the candidates up like cartoon characters, you should probably laugh. It's a circus sometimes, after all.