Mudslinging off to early start in Colorado’s 4th CD

Pointing to recent media reports that determined the latest round of attack ads against her were misleading, Rep. Marilyn Musgrave came out fighting on Tuesday with heated words, prompting her opponent Betsy Markey to denounce the three-term Republican for hypocrisy.

In a press release issued by her campaign, Musgrave called Markey out for not publicly speaking up against the political group Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, which bankrolled the $212,000 ad spree last month.

Betsy Markey“My opponent’s silence on these ads is both shameful and deafening,” Musgrave said in the press release. “Shameful because her silence amounts to an unspoken endorsement of the political character assassination and defamation now being conducted by her Defenders of Wildlife friends, whose endorsement she recently received.”

Denver television stations, KUSA and KCNC, separately determined the ads were misleading despite making some truthful statements.

“(Markey’s) silence speaks louder than words as to her campaign’s apparent strategy – to win this election at any cost, while permitting any lies,” Musgrave continued. “That’s politics as usual and is the first indication of just what she’d be in Congress.”

After hearing of the comments, Markey issued a press release denouncing Musgrave for campaign tactics that amounted to hypocrisy.

“I find it the height of irony and hypocrisy for Marilyn Musgrave, who benefited to the tune of $1.7 million in intensely negative independent advertising spent against her Democratic opponent in 2006, to think that she has a single leg to stand on when it comes to this issue,” Markey said.

“Marilyn Musgrave has pulled yet another trick from the tired old play book [of] manufactured outrage and demands for denunciation. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that this new-found outrage comes in a year when she faces the political fight of her life and has been told by her own party not to expect the infusion of outside money that kept her afloat in past years, but I suspect not,” Markey continued.

The negative advertising – and subsequent calls for the other side to publicly denounce it – is indicative of another bloody battle in the 4th Congressional District this year where many Democrats feel Musgrave is vulnerable.

Into the mud pit

Particularly in CD-4, mudslinging has become commonplace and Musgrave is no stranger to negative campaign tactics.

A total of $9.2 million was spent in the CD-4 in 2006 with nearly $5.3 million spent by Musgrave or groups fighting for her and about $3.9 million spent by Democrat Angie Paccione and her allies, according to FEC and Internal Revenue Service records.

Although Musgrave has employed attack advertising against opponents during previous elections, the three-term incumbent has become a lighting rod for the deep pockets of progressive political groups because of her well-publicized opposition to gay marriage and her traditionally conservative voting record.

In 2006, $373,688.20 in independent expenditures was used against Musgrave by outside groups including EMILY’s List, Defenders of Wildlife and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, among others.

Angie Paccione, 2006 Democrat candidate in the 4th Congressional District

Nearly six times as many independent expenditures were spent attacking Paccione, however, with $1,735,756.78 used to highlight a previous personal bankruptcy and defaulted student loans. The National Republican Congressional Committee funded almost all the negative ad blitz against the Fort Collins Democrat.

The independent expenditure totals don’t include so-called 527 contributions that flooded the race, including $1.5 million spent by the anti-Musgrave group Coloradans for Life, mostly funded by Colorado billionaires Pat Stryker and Adobe founder Tim Gill.

By the time Musgrave squeaked by Paccione by less than 3 percent, the smallest margin of any incumbent in the House, more than $14 was spent attacking the two candidates for every $1 spent supporting them, nearly three times the national average.

“Negative advertising works,” said Colorado State University political science professor John Straayer, who has followed 4th District politics for decades. “In terms of negative advertising and being successful with it, the Republicans got a head start, and it has worked well for them. But in recent years, the Democrats figured it out with the whole Clinton notion of ‘respond now and respond hard.’ As a result, we will see the negative advertising even out among the parties become more commonplace.”

Negative to November?

If early promises this year by outside groups are an indication, Straayer’s prediction is accurate.

In addition to the $212,000 the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund spent on the ads last month, the group has said it would throw $288,000 more into the race, for a total of $500,000, by November’s election. Gill’s political group, the Gill Action Fund, indicated it will once again target Musgrave this year, and other groups such as the DCCC and EMILY’s List could follow.

The X factor will most likely be the so-called 527 groups, which are sure to be play a role this year in CD-4. A leaked January memo from Denver political consultant Dominic DelPapa to former Colorado State University president and Stryker policy consultant Al Yates outlined a $2.7 million plan to use 527 money to unseat Musgrave as well as plans to defeat other Republican candidates in Colorado.

Also concerning for Musgrave are the 15 open GOP seats currently in play during a year when the NRCC war chest is smaller than previous cycles. Of those seats, as determined by the Cook Political Report, four “lean Democrat,” nine are “toss-ups” and two “lean Republican,” spreading the bankrolls of the NRCC and other independent groups thin.

Markey could become a target for conservative 527s if Musgrave appears vulnerable as November approaches. The Coalition for a Conservative Majority, founded by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, has offices in Denver and Colorado Springs along with a number of 527 groups dedicated to retaining incumbent Republicans.

Straayer called negative campaigning and the subsequent calls from the other side to denounce it standard politics but added the CD 4 electorate is slowly moving from guns and gay marriage to issues like water and the economy – things Musgrave is not as well-known for.

“People get away with a lot of stuff by being under the radar,” Straayer said. “But once you raise moral issues like gay marriage, abortion and gun rights up the flagpole you are putting yourself on the radar screen. Musgrave is a decent, nice person by all accounts, but there are people out there that are just visceral towards her. She has put herself up the flagpole not on issues like education or transportation or lower taxes but by talking about gay marriage. It’s made her an easy target for negative ads.”