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Candidates Launch First Negative Ads in Missouri Governor’s Race

BY Admin  September 24, 2004 at 4:40 PM EST

The Missouri Republican Party on Sept. 17 aired the first attack ad in the race, accusing state auditor Claire McCaskill of hypocrisy by voting for tax increases in the 1980s then falling behind on her own property tax payments in the 1990s.

McCaskill’s camp responded by noting that her rival Secretary of State Matt Blunt’s own grandfather, former state Rep. Leroy Blunt and other Republicans voted for some of those tax increases. The campaign also countered that Matt Blunt failed to pay as much in property taxes as he should have.

Both McCaskill and Blunt have campaigned on pledges to not raise taxes — a contrast to the stance of incumbent Democratic Gov. Bob Holden, whom McCaskill soundly defeated in the Democratic primary. Both candidates have said curtailed government spending would offset any need to increase taxes.

Despite McCaskill’s efforts to distance herself from Holden, Blunt and his supporters have sought to link her to Holden and cast doubt on her tax policy.

“Two years ago, Claire McCaskill supported Bob Holden’s massive tax hike. And in the legislature, she voted for over a billion dollars in higher taxes. Claire McCaskill. High taxes for you. Low taxes for herself,” an announcer says as a question mark appears on the screen. “And now she wants to be governor? We can’t afford that.”

McCaskill’s dismissed the ad as containing “wrongful assertions.” McCaskill said her brother was supposed to pay the property taxes in question, which he eventually did, the Associated Press reported. McCaskill’s campaign also pointed out that she never endorsed Holden’s 2002 plan to boost taxes on casinos, cigarettes and upper-income earners.

Missouri Republican Party spokesman Paul Sloca, however, defended the ad’s first line, saying that it referred to Holden’s proposal to raise sales and gas taxes for highway improvements, not his tax plan.

The ad’s allegation that McCaskill voted in favor of tax hikes in the state legislature failed a fact check conducted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The newspaper reported that most of the taxes McCaskill supported in the House 20 years ago had received bipartisan backing — including that of Blunt’s grandfather, former state Rep. Leroy Blunt.

Several days later, the Missouri Democratic Party launched its own attack ad. But, as spokesman Jack Cardetti told the AP, the state party soon pulled the ad to tweak its content and make it more “effective.” The overall message of the Democratic ad remained defining Blunt as untrustworthy and hypocritical, just as the Republican spot had labeled McCaskill.

In the original ad, an announcer begins with the declaration: “Matt Blunt — a true hypocrite on taxes.” The ad then asserted that Blunt “received a sweetheart property tax break from a political contributor.”

The revised ad cut the entire line calling Blunt a “true hypocrite,” along with the term “sweetheart” to describe Blunt’s alleged tax break. The new ad, however, did not drop the charge that Blunt failed to fully pay his property taxes — as the Democrats sought to turn the property tax issue back on Blunt.

The new spot, which began airing Sept. 22, also inserted McCaskill’s opposition to new taxes and mentioned newspaper articles reporting that Blunt has distorted McCaskill’s voting record in the legislature. The revised commercial tacked on a new ending in which the announcer asks: “Matt Blunt, can we really believe anything he says?”

Blunt’s campaign responded that the state Democrats had to change the ad because it contained a “blatant lie” about his record, adding that the revised ad was still a “patently false claim.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch conducted its own fact check on the revised ad, debunking the Democrat’s allegation about Blunt’s tax payments. The Post-Dispatch instead found no evidence that Blunt received preferential treatment and the error occurred because of incorrect tax assessments.

Meanwhile, as the candidates exchange barbs in TV commercials, McCaskill and Blunt as of Sept. 24 have yet to commit to statewide televised debates. Both campaigns have said they are trying to negotiate a mutually acceptable debate schedule.