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Bloomberg's attack ad against Koster may be a political blessing

Attorney General Chris Koster is the likely Democratic nominee for governor.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

For Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, being the target of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg may not be so bad.

Bloomberg’s PAC, Independence USA, says it’s spending hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next few weeks on a statewide TV ad campaign that blasts Koster for “fighting Obama and clean energy.” But in a state that backed Republican Mitt Romney in 2012 over President Barack Obama by 260,000 votes, such an attack might be welcome news for a Democrat.

Koster, a Democrat running for governor in 2016, is the only Democrat among four attorneys general from around the country who are under attack from Bloomberg’s PAC because they’re part of a suit against a federal plan to curb the use of coal to fight climate change.

Koster contends that the plan is too onerous, and could cost Missouri up to $6 billion to implement -- “more than six times what the state currently spends on higher education each year.”

Some conservative groups and industry analysts assert that Missourians’ energy bills could go up 25 percent or more, if the plan is put into effect, because of the state’s reliance on coal to fuel its energy plants.

The White House, Bloomberg and many environmentalists say the Clean Power Plan could help the nation and the planet in the long run. And in the short term, cutting coal emissions could improve the health of Americans. Some point to the smog problems plaguing China, which is heavily dependent on coal.

The ad running statewide notes that Koster – the state’s top money-raiser – has collected hefty donations from energy companies. As a result, it asserts that Koster “wants polluters to be free to pump billions of tons of carbon into the air each year, contributing to asthma and heart disease. Chris Koster puts polluters ahead of the health of Missouri families.” 

Koster’s campaign replied by zeroing in on the financial cost – and Bloomberg’s wealth.

“While a double-digit electric bill jump might not affect someone with Michael Bloomberg's bank account, it would devastate seniors on fixed-incomes, working families and small businesses across the state,” said Koster’s campaign committee director, Andrew Whalen.

Whalen went on to assert that Koster “works for the people of Missouri, not a New York City billionaire.”

A spokesman for Bloomberg’s PAC says it expects to spend generously to run the ad this month on TV stations around the state.

On KMOV-TV (Channel 4) in St. Louis, for example, the PAC has paid about $25,000 to air more than 40 ad spots over the next couple weeks. The ads are slated to run on CBS’ national Sunday talk show, on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and during this Saturday’s televised Democratic presidential debate.

Missouri among four targeted states

Similar ads are running in Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin, where the targets are Republican attorneys general.The New York Times reports that Independence USA is expected to spend up to $10 million overall to run the spots.

Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin are likely to be presidential  battleground states in 2016. Missouri’s status is less clear, although the state’s voters have made a habit in recent years of splitting their tickets. Romney, for example, was among only two Republicans to carry the state in 2012. All the other statewide victors were Democrats.

Koster was among them. For the moment, he’s the only major Democrat running for governor next year. But there’s a crowd of Republicans competing to run against him, and some – notably Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder – arguably have more name recognition among voters, even though Koster has won statewide twice.

That’s where a TV ad campaign, even one that blasts him, could be a help to Koster. It gets his name before TV viewers regularly over the next few weeks, at no cost to Koster’s campaign.

And in heavily Republican rural Missouri, the ad’s assertion that Koster is opposing Obama may actually be a boon to Koster’s rural image.

That may explain why neither Koster nor the Missouri Democratic Party is complaining about Bloomberg’s attack ad.

St. Louis Public Radio plans to lodge a complaint with Independence USA because its ad uses a photo of Koster that was taken by a public-radio reporter and is the property of the station. The photo is being used without the station’s permission.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.