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Democratic Governors Association bankrolling hefty ad campaign on Nixon's behalf

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 3, 2012 - The first independent group has launched an ad campaign on behalf of a candidate for Missouri governor, and surprisingly, it’s for Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat who won election in 2008 by 19 percentage points and generally has been seen – win or lose -- as his state party’s likely top vote-getter this fall.

The group running the pro-Nixon spot is America Works USA, a pro-Democratic independent nonprofit organization. But the money bankrolling the group’s pro-Nixon ad is the national Democratic Governors Association.

The association acknowledges putting up the money for the spot. Although it declines to provide details about the ad buy, the national news site Politicosays the pro-Nixon ad campaign is expected to cost $500,000.  That’s a significant ad blitz by Missouri standards.

Democratic sources say the ad is running statewide, on cable and broadcast stations, including those in St. Louis.

The ad features an announcer saying: "Washington is broken, but we’re doing things differently here in Missouri. Gov. Jay Nixon’s new plan balances Missouri’s budget for the fourth year in a row without raising taxes. The governor’s plan continues to cut the size of government and crack down on wasteful spending. It preserves Missouri’s perfect triple A credit rating – one of the few states in the nation. Tell your legislators to support Gov. Nixon’s plan to balance the budget without raising taxes."

A spokeswoman for the Democratic Governors Association said the organization "is supporting America Works USA because we see an opportunity to advocate for Gov. Nixon’s fiscally conservative budget, which will hold the line on taxes and protect the state’s triple-A credit rating.”

The DGA also has highlighted Nixon on its website.

The spokeswoman denied that the ad blitz had anything to do with the continued TV ad campaign run – and financed -- by one of Nixon’s Republican rivals, wealthy Kirkwood businessman Dave Spence.

Ad highlights Nixon's budget fight with House

Timing aside, the America Works ad does appear to be linked to Nixon’s unusually public effort (for him) to advance his budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1. He has condemned some alternative cuts (notably, elimination of the state's longstanding assistance program for the blind) in the substitute version recently approved by the Republican-controlled state House.

The budget is now before the state Senate, also controlled by Republicans. Although Nixon has avoided any public jabs at Senate GOP leaders, the ad may be aimed at elevating awareness of his stance among the general public – and, most likely, also raise Nixon’s political profile.

Nixon, by the way, has made a habit at campaign gatherings of avoiding any public references to Republicans in Jefferson City.

Some Democrats also privately say the ad may be part of an effort to bolster Nixon’s standing as head of the state party and thus help down-ballot Democrats by making them part of his team. In other words, the aim could be to identify the Democratic "brand" in Missouri more with Nixon -- and less with President Barack Obama, who is not expected to carry Missouri this fall, regardless of who the GOP presidential nominee is.

In fact, the ad’s initial attack on “Washington” also appears to mesh with the latest campaign approach of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.  – a Nixon ally (and former rival) – who is embracing an anti-Washington, pro-worker stance during her campaign stops this week as she begins a more public bid for re-election.

GOP claims Nixon may be vulnerable

Still, even the Missouri Republican Party has been stunned by the DGA’s hefty spending for the pro-Nixon ad – and is contending that the early pitch may indicate that Nixon is more vulnerable than his campaign or the Democrats want to admit.

“This half-a-million dollar ad buy from the Democratic Governors Association is the clearest sign yet that Democrats are alarmed about Jay Nixon’s chances in November,” said Lloyd Smith, the Missouri GOP’s executive director of the Missouri Republican Party. “And they are right to worry. After more than three years of failing to lead and refusing to stand up against the job-killing policies coming out of Washington, Jay Nixon is in deep trouble with Missouri voters.”

Smith went on to jab at Nixon’s decision to stay out of the battles in Washington over various issues, most notably the implementation since 2010 of the federal health insurance law dubbed "Obamacare." Nixon has said that he will comply with federal law but otherwise has not taken a stand on the issue.

The governor’s allies note, however, that Spence has declined to take a stand on the various budget cuts advanced by his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly. That includes the House’s plan to eliminate the assistance program for the blind.

Spence campaign consultant Jared Craighead said in an interview that Spence will take a public stand on the GOP proposal to cut the aid program for the blind when Nixon takes a public stand on Obamacare.

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.