McCaskill’s response has been an unconventional and risky strategy: She’s targeting the super PACs right back.
Standard practice suggests that voters are rarely interested in arguments over campaign finances, particularly in the face of a tough economy and a political system awash in money on both sides. But McCaskill is betting she can turn the millions spent against her into an advantage, a sign of her political independence. She devoted her first campaign ad for reelection to the argument that out-of-state special interests are trying to knock her out of the Senate in November.
“You make one company mad by casting a principled vote, and they say, ‘Okay, we’ll just gin up $10 million of our corporate money and take her out anonymously,’ ” she said. “I think if people figure out that’s what’s going on, they’re going to be very turned off by it.”
The McCaskill campaign will provide a key national test of whether too much money can be a disadvantage in a political campaign in 2012, particularly when McCaskill herself will be the beneficiary of some of the same kind of outside spending she criticizes.
“Time will tell,” she said.
Republicans note the outside spending might only level the financial playing field. McCaskill just announced that she has $6.3 million in the bank for the race, dramatically outpacing the fundraising of all three of Republicans competing to replace her.
And each of the GOP candidates — Rep. Todd Akin of St. Louis, wealthy former businessman John Brunner and former state treasurer Sarah Steelman — said that the issue matters little to voters and that McCaskill’s emphasis on it only proves she’s out of touch.
But McCaskill is betting that the political landscape has shifted since the 2010 Citizens United decision that lifted restrictions on corporate and union giving — and that she can use the relentless attacks to reinforce her message that she is an independent thinker who has made powerful enemies during her first term in office.
McCaskill won election in 2006 by less than 3 percentage points in a race that now feels like an artifact of a different era, dominated by her opposition to the Iraq war and her support for an ultimately successful state referendum measure to fund stem cell research.
The state has swung decidedly rightward since Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) beat Barack Obama by just two-tenths of a percentage point here in 2008.
While Obama’s approval rating in Missouri lagged behind his national average by just one point in 2009, by last year it had dipped to 39 percent, five points behind the national average, according to Gallup.