Until recently, Sen. Mark Begich has run what many would say was a flawless campaign. He’s everywhere in this state, reaching out to as many different interest groups as possible. His attacks on his challenger, GOP Senate candidate Dan Sullivan, for not supporting women’s rights, for not supporting Alaska Native rights, for not supporting the elderly, hunters, fisherman, to name a few, are no doubt working. Sullivan’s bruised. But he’s far from down.
An attack that began airing on Friday of Labor Day weekend was no doubt intended to try to take him out, and it might have worked had it been done differently and played at a different time. We’ll know more when polls start to roll in, but if wide condemnation from the national media—from Politico to MSNBC to the Washington Post, to Jon Stewart, some of which is summarized below–means anything, it appears to have backfired.
The ad in question said that Sullivan was to blame for the 2013 horrific murders of two elderly grandparents and the sexual assault of a two-year-old girl. The accused is Jerry Active, who had a record and who committed the crimes within hours of getting out of jail. Active’s trial is set for September 22.
He was out of jail due to a light sentence that he received, and shouldn’t have, as part of a plea deal that was cut while Sullivan was the state’s attorney general, and which bore his name. However, the plea deal was cut as a result of a mistake on a database that was maintained by the Department of Public Safety. The mistake was made prior to Sullivan’s tenure at the Department of Law, as were all of Active’s crimes.
The family’s lawyer, Bryon Collins, asked that the Begich campaign take it down. Eventually, they did, but it took a while.
The reasons for the media’s admonishments vary. Some focus on the “Willie Horton” type ad. Some focus on the timing and the bungling of it. Others focus on the veracity. All seem to strike a resounding chorus that this was a major misstep by Begich in an otherwise well-orchestrated campaign.
Here’s some summaries of some of the media coverage:
Politico rebuked Begich for potentially damaging any future attack’s validity against Dan Sullivan’s tenure as Alaska’s Attorney General. If the first salvo about Sullivan’s AG responsibilities was so incredibly mishandled and misrepresented by the Begich campaign, the public just might completely dismiss anything the Begich campaign finds, despite the facts that might actually be damaging for Sullivan. From the piece:
The ad, which was yanked from the airwaves only after pleas from a lawyer for the family of the victims, touched a nerve. The water could now be muddied on what internal polls and focus groups have shown is one of Begich’s most potent lines of attack against Sullivan.
The Hill focused on the impact the ad had on the victim’s family and the uncalculated backfire. The publication included an insert from a letter to the Begich campaign written by the family’s attorney, Bryon Collins:
“You are tearing this family apart to the point that your ad was so shocking to them they now want to permanently leave the state as quickly as possible. Again, to be perfectly clear, it was your ad that shocked them,” Bryon Collins writes in the letter.
MSNBC.com went into more depth behind how such an ad could even go forward since it is now clear the victim’s family were not consulted. It’s disapproval is not that the ad ran, but that the Begich campaign didn’t do their footwork properly by not getting the family’s permission to run it. MSNBC has since teased out that while someone in the Begich campaign did contact the family and friends within the Cambodian community, no one with the power to grant permission did so. This seems to be the crux of the ad’s downfall:
According to a spokesman for Begich’s campaign, his staff had reached out to family members of the victim as well as members of their Cambodian community in Anchorage before running the ad and received no indication anyone objected to its content. Nonetheless, they are honoring Collins’ request and trying to determine how the miscommunication happened…Collins had previously told the Washington Examiner that his clients did not respond to messages from the campaign and never gave permission to run the ad. He repeated the claim in a statement on Tuesday night and suggested other individuals purporting to speak for the family may be creating confusion. I have a copy of the only text message regarding contact with my client on behalf [of the] Begich campaign asking if Begich campaign could contact my clients,” Collins said. “No one from the campaign called my clients or discussed the ads with them prior to running them. It appears someone other than my office is attempting to speak for the family without authorization. The family requests that this stop immediately.
Fox, as expected, salivated. It quoted local professor Forrest Nabors who said, “The deeper you get into the facts behind this, this advertisement, really the uglier it gets and I think, the uglier it gets for the Begich campaign.”
PolitiFact.com evaluated Begich’s Active ad and their famous Truth-o-Meter rated it as “Pants on Fire” for not only being inaccurate, but for also making an inflammatory accusation. It goes into great detail, and ends like this:
Active, who is awaiting trial, received a shorter sentence than he was supposed to, but the mistake that led to this sentence happened before Sullivan became attorney general. So to pin the error on Sullivan is wrong, and to suggest that he actively approved the sentence is a fabrication.
This from the Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan, who wrote about why Mark Begich’s ad did plenty of damage to his campaign. The writer focuses not on the ad’s distasteful message, but by bungling the handling of such a delicate issue:
If Begich allows the campaign to be dominated by talk of Obama’s agenda or national Democrats, he will almost certainly lose. If he can make it about Alaska issues and values, he has a decent chance of winning a second term. But now comes a local issue which he’d certainly like to avoid discussing — one on which he’s now most decidedly on defense. Begich will have enough battles to fight with Republicans trying to link him to Obama and national Democratic policies. He can ill-afford to be on the losing side of local debates, too.
But probably the most damning comes from Jon Stewart, who can kill campaigns through judgment-by-humor. Watch here, starting at about minute 5:30.
Contact Amanda Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org