The Backfired Ploy

By Jim Ellis

May 16, 2016
— The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took a big chance in the closing days of the Nebraska primary just concluded, and their ploy crashed and burned.

The DCCC, understanding that Tea Party supporting former state senator and county commissioner Chip Maxwell (R) would be an easier opponent for their freshman incumbent, Rep. Brad Ashford, to beat bought over $400,000 worth of ad time to contrast Maxwell and retired Air Force General Don Bacon (R).

Their ad (above) portrays Maxwell as the “Tea Party conservative” in the Republican primary and urges GOP voters to “look up the facts” about the two candidates. In directly appealing to the group of base conservative voters the Dem party leaders hoped to confuse them in order to promote the weaker general election Republican candidate.

The committee surprisingly did not use a front organization to deliver the message but only their acronym in identifying themselves as the ad sponsor, assuming that most people won’t bother to find out what the letters “DCCC” actually mean. Even so, the step was rather unprecedented for one political party, in its own name, to actually attempt to blatantly influence the other entity’s voters into backing the candidate that they, their political adversaries, want.

Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) campaign had success with this type of tactic in 2012, but their execution was clever and not so obvious that the message was subterfuge.

Strange logic was used to implement this idea, and the after-effect may have only strengthened Gen. Bacon’s standing to Ashford’s detriment. Bacon stormed his way to a 66-34 percent win over Maxwell in the Nebraska Republican primary, which isn’t at all what the DCCC hoped to achieve.

Freshman Rep. Ashford, a former state senator, unseated eight-term Rep. Lee Terry (R-Omaha) in 2014 and overcame the Republican wave election. The outcome, however, is likely more attributable to Terry’s negative ratings and his penchant for making strange and ill-advised remarks and less to the new congressman’s superior campaign tactics.

Another factor could influence this congressional race, too. Nebraska is one of two states that split their electoral votes in the presidential election. Under their system, the statewide winner is awarded two electoral votes, and one each goes to the candidate winning the three individual congressional districts.

In 2008, President Obama won the 2nd District, thereby giving him one Nebraska electoral vote even though he lost the state. If the 2016 race becomes close, Nebraska and Maine, the other state to use this apportionment formula, could see increased attention from the presidential campaigns, and this could have a decided effect upon the Ashford-Bacon race.

Gen. Bacon is now well positioned to compete with Rep. Ashford. (See his ad above.) Despite 2016 being a presidential year, which will increase Democratic turnout, the impending general election could well bring another incumbent defeat to the Omaha area later this year.

The 2nd District of Nebraska contains all of Douglas County, including the city of Omaha, and part of Sarpy County making it the state’s main urban district. As such, Democratic chances of winning this seat are better here than in the other two CDs, but NE-2 is still a marginally Republican seat.

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