Musgrave’s negative ad bites back

Going negative against political opponents is second nature to Republican U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave.

Against her first Democratic opponent, former state Senate President Stan Matsunaka, in 2002 and again in 2004, Musgrave went negative by calling him a tax raiser who voted against working families in Colorado while serving in the state Legislature. In 2006 Musgrave successfully used Democratic challenger Angie Paccione’s previous bankruptcy against her as a symbol of a woman who couldn’t balance her own checkbook.

Fast-forward to 2008, and Musgrave’s campaign is using the same tricks that worked so well in recent elections. In a television advertisement released last week, Musgrave claims her opponent, Democrat Betsy Markey, benefited by her position within U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar’s office by steering federal contracts to a company she and her husband owned.

Although Musgrave’s campaign hasn’t provided proof of the allegation, the impact could be damaging to Markey in the long run. After all, negative advertising in politics works.

But this attack could be different for Musgrave.

The shock of the new Musgrave ad hit the Markey campaign hard last week. First it denied the allegations and then worked hard to explain, not so successfully, why her company was classified a woman-owned firm after Markey divested herself from ownership in 2006. For those wondering why that matters, woman and minority-owned firms can compete for government contracts that regular companies cannot compete for.

Although it was Markey on the defensive last week, it could be Musgrave who will be wishing she hadn’t run the negative ad.

As noted by The Fort Collins Coloradoan, Musgrave has unsuccessfully sponsored legislation that would reduce the capital gains tax on precious metals, including coin collections and other valuable metals like gold.

Now, you might be wondering, “Who, in today’s world of easy stock purchases and get-rich-fast schemes, owns an extensive precious metals collection?” Well, among other constituents, Musgrave’s husband, Steve, qualifies. According to federal income statements elected officials must file, Steve Musgrave has a precious metal collection that is worth $50,000 – $100,000, and he would have benefited with a couple of thousand dollars worth of a tax break.

Musgrave campaign manager Jason Thielman told the Coloradoan that Musgrave lowers taxes anywhere she can, and this is just another example of that.

Other Musgrave critics point to wheat subsidies Musgrave helped pass through Congress while sitting on the Agricultural Committee; the subsidies, they say, have benefited her family farm as another example of the three-term incumbent’s using her congressional position to her financial benefit. But, because Musgrave represents the largest agricultural district in Colorado, which is home to many wheat farms, we don’t see that criticism sticking.

But, with only a small percentage of Americans and constituents in Colorado’s 4th CD owning precious metals collections, Musgrave’s attempts to reduce taxes on the commodity could be spun by detractors. Whether the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or the Markey campaign will use the approach to attack Musgrave or will let it slide has yet to be seen, but the opportunity is there.

If they do, it could be argued that Musgrave opened the door for the attacks against her by releasing last week’s advertisement against Markey.