Political newbies quickly learn how to duck a question. Saying “I can’t answer that until I see the specifics” sounds a lot better than “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
But John Oceguera is no political newcomer. So Democratic Party honchos, depending on the state Assembly speaker as their challenger in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, knew they had a problem when Mr. Oceguera started doing the rounds on local public affairs TV programs and managed to quickly convince even sympathetic interviewers that he wasn’t ready for prime time.
Mr. Oceguera actually managed to answer a question about the mortgage foreclosure crisis by blaming the incumbent, Republican Rep. Joe Heck, for “supporting tax breaks for Big Oil.” What?
Democratic strategists quickly withdrew the retired firefighter from venues where he could be cross-questioned – Mr. Oceguera declined repeated invitations to a Review-Journal endorsement interview, for example – and instead switched to Plan B: vicious attack ads that lie about his opponent. The tactic is simple: Research any bill Rep. Heck ever voted for or against, then get out the blowtorch and tongs and start twisting.
On the last day of the 2007 legislative session in Carson City, for example, a catch-all funding package called SB 579 was dumped on state lawmakers. Then-state Sen. Heck wouldn’t support a 31-page spending bill mere hours after receiving it – especially when it contained such vital earmarks as $200,000 for the California Trail Interpretative Center. Sen. Heck voted no.
Aha! That bill also included $250,000 to expand the child assault prevention program at a local rape crisis center. So now Mr. Oceguera claims Rep. Heck opposes helping women who have been raped.
“Maybe he’s never had to look in their eyes,” says one Democratic ad, referring to rape victims. In fact, Dr. Heck, an emergency room physician, “was often the first person to look into the eyes of, treat, and care for hundreds of victims of rape and domestic violence,” his campaign responds.
Arriving in Congress, Rep. Heck, who’s never made any secret that he’s pro-life, voted for HR 3, a bill reinforcing an existing prohibition on using federal funds for abortions.
Aha! Rep. Heck wants to restrict rape victims’ access to abortion, Mr. Oceguera’s ads proclaim. In fact, HR 3 specifically says the prohibitions don’t apply to abortion “if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.”
Why would Democratic strategists resort to such blatant lies and distortions? Because it has worked before against Joe Heck. Four years ago, the Washington-based Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee decided to do whatever it took to flip control of the Nevada Senate, which Republicans held 11-10. But the Democrats’ challenger to Joe Heck, political newcomer Shirley Breeden, proved incapable of answering the simplest questions at local forums. So the party effectively hid her in the basement and put out vicious hit pieces against the incumbent.
They put Sen. Heck’s name next to a sad-looking, bald female cancer patient because, according to Democrats, he opposes giving women a vaccine that can prevent cancer. In fact, in order to keep insurance costs affordable, he’d voted against mandating that insurance companies pay for a vaccine that prevents a sexually transmitted disease which can lead to cervical cancer.
Ms. Breeden rode those attacks to victory and an unremarkable term. She is not seeking re-election this year.
The other big beneficiary of the 2008 Democratic Party sleaze campaign? State Sen. Steven Horsford, who said the DLCC’s help was “welcome” in making him majority leader. Today, Sen. Horsford is running his own lackluster campaign for U.S. Congress, in Nevada’s new 4th District.
Democrats can’t argue these tactics are about putting the best candidates in office. Mr. Oceguera, who simultaneously collected salaries from the Legislature and the North Las Vegas Fire Department (sometimes for hours he didn’t work), who claims to champion fairness for the middle class while collecting a lifetime, six-figure pension in his early 40s at taxpayer expense, who vilifies Wall Street and the profitable corporations from which his income is derived, doesn’t come close to meeting that standard.
No, these gutter campaigns are about winning at any cost, about replacing Joe Heck – a physician, a successful small businessman, an active officer in the Army Reserve who’s been in harm’s way to patch up our soldiers at the front – with someone who can’t articulate his party’s shallow talking points, let alone a coherent philosophy of government.
Beyond this race, such tactics will only discourage decent people from ever seeking office. Who would subject themselves to such attacks? Voters must not be fooled again.