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Blunt, Carnahan embrace the same line of attack: Rival is guilty of deceit

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 23, 2010 - The two current lines of attack lobbed at Missouri's two major-party candidates for the U.S. Senate -- Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Robin Carnahan -- both revolve around the same word: Deceit.

He's accused of misrepresenting his role and votes in the federal bank bailout, while she's under fire for switching her stances on the Bush tax cuts.

Missouri voters are likely to hear a lot about both issues as the Senate race heads into its final two-month stretch.

For weeks now, in appearances and ads, Carnahan has accused Blunt of deceiving the public about his role in the federal bank bailout crafted quickly during the fall of 2008 when it appeared that financial institutions and the nation's economy were on the verge of collapse.

Carnahan's latest ad even features old news footage that shows Blunt taking a major role as one of the GOP House leaders supporting then-President George W. Bush and his Treasury secretary, Hank Paulson, when they proposed the $700 billion financial bailout.

Blunt voted for the bailout bill twice -- when it was first rejected by the House on Sept. 29, 2008, and a week later when it was approved.  The measure authorized immediate use of $350 million; the second half could be spent if the president certified that it was needed and Congress didn't object. (Click here for a detailed Associated Press analysis of Blunt's actions and stance, then and now.)

Blunt voted with Republicans and a House majority in January 2009 to object to the spending of the second half, after Democrat Barack Obama took office as president and certified that it was needed. The Senate already had OKed Obama's request. (This account has been expanded since this post's original publication to offer a more detailed explanation of the $700 billion bailout and the congressional votes taken.)

Carnahan contends that Blunt is being deceitful about his role because the GOP rank-and-file opposed the bailout. Blunt, in turn, has sought to challenge Carnahan's contention that she always opposed the bailout because of the lack of adequate oversight.

To that end, the Blunt campaign has released a couple of Carnahan's words -- notably "absolutely" -- that are part of a tape of her remarks during a July fundraising event in Sante Fe. The Blunt campaign says that word was used to show her agreement to an unidentified person on the tape who talks about the need for the bailout.

The Blunt campaign has declined to make public the whole tape, and the Carnahan camp -- which believes her words are being taking out of context -- says it's not going to comment until the whole tape is released. Carnahan's allies are accusing the Blunt camp of being deceitful about the whole episode.

But lately, the Blunt campaign has been hitting harder at Carnahan over her disclosure last week that she has changed her stance on the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of the year.

For months, Carnahan has sided with Obama and many Democratic congressional leaders who want to retain the tax cuts for middle-class Americans, but want to allow cuts to expire on people who earn $250,000 or more. Blunt sides with Republicans who want to keep all the tax cuts.

Late last week, Carnahan created a lot of buzz when she said she now supported keeping all the cuts in place.

Said spokesman Linden Zakula: "Robin has always said that we must put middle-class families first, but the unfortunate reality is that 14 years of Congressman Blunt’s failed economic policies have left Missourians still reeling from this economic crisis and she believes we must do everything we can to help our small businesses create jobs and get our economy back on track -– not raise taxes on families."

Blunt's campaign offered a harsher assessment. "Having endorsed the failed jobs and economic policies of President Obama at every step and trailing in polls, 'Rubberstamp Robin Carnahan' now is resorting to deceit,'' the campaign said in a statement. "After repeatedly opposing plans to make existing tax cuts permanent at year's end, Carnahan now seeks to trick voters by claiming falsely to be pro-tax relief."

The Blunt campaign also contended that "pro tax-increase liberals can feel betrayed by her lack of principle, and willingness to say anything to hide her record of rubberstamping the Pelosi, Reid, Obama liberal agenda."

That attack gets at what some see as the real purpose of the battle over who's guilty of deceit and deception. The true targets go beyond the issues of bailouts and tax cuts. Rather, both are seeking to raise questions in the minds of the public -- including each party's respective base -- about Blunt's and Carnahan's commitment and character.

"They're trying to raise the negative perception of each other,'' said Dave Robertson, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

For their rival's base, the aim is to curb Democratic or GOP enthusiasm about their nominee, by raising questions about their commitment to their party's core values.

But Robertson contends that their chief audience is Missouri's swing voters, who make up maybe a quarter or less of the electorate -- but could well decide the victor if the Carnahan-Blunt contest ends up being close.

Swing voters are more likely to have been playing less attention to the back and forth over the past months. As they tune in over the coming weeks, Blunt and Carnahan each wants swing voters to swiftly hear about the poor character of their rival.

The aim is mutually the same, Robertson said. "They're telling a story -- that their opponent is an unacceptable candidate for office."

In other words, deceitful.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.