Why Brooks Lost

Despite all the efforts of Republican talking heads to make this race into something it wasn’t, Louise Slaughter crushed Maggie Brooks last night, winning 57% of the vote. Aside from the fact that the math was always against Brooks, her weak, cookie-cutter, DC Republican/Fox News campaign sealed her fate.

After watching a few weeks of the Brooks campaign, and seeing that Louise Slaughter has more energy and wit that many politicians decades younger, I pretty much lost interest in this race. The reason was simple: Slaughter’s attacks on Brooks, though perhaps exaggerated, were essentially true, local and relevant. Maggie clearly has an issue with some bad hires in the county, and her response in the first debate, which was that she had been “disappointed” by those who work for her, did nothing to assure voters that she’d learned from her mistakes.

Brooks’ main charge against Slaughter, the $716 million Medicare lie, was useless in practice because it was easily refuted and voters have become inured to booga-booga Mediscare tactics. The rest of her campaign was the standard anti-incumbent campaign. The press releases were, frankly, laughable. Apparently Brooks’ staff thought repeating “entrenched Washington insider” would carry the day. I don’t know who they polled on that one, but from what I can tell, Rochesterians are intelligent enough to know that having the chair or ranking member of one of the most powerful committees in Congress might have some benefit, even though Congress does meet in that awful place, the District of Columbia.

I always wondered why Brooks chose to run this year. Slaughter will inevitably retire at some point, perhaps even in 2014. It’s far easier for a Republican to win here in a non-Presidential year, since the turnout in the solidly Democratic parts of the city is far lower. I assume the reason was her perception of the risks of running now versus later.

Risk is a funny thing. Brooks’ run was apparently a reaction to the possibility that some other Republican might sneak in and ride the supposed anti-Obama tidal wave and snatch up this seat. But it’s clear today that Brooks’ attempt to throw down a marker for this seat involved another, bigger risk. Before last night, a lot of Republicans thought that Maggie’s wins in the off-year, low turnout County Exec elections was an indicator that she’d be able to win any county-wide election. That fantasy has finally been put to bed, decisively. Before last night, Republicans thought that ROBUTRAD, Maggie’s husband’s job and the rest had all been processed and forgiven by voters. That was half right: the voters processed it, but they sure didn’t forgive.

When 2014 rolls around, Brooks will probably have another shot at this district. If she takes it, everyone will know that she’s not invincible in a county-wide election, and that she comes to the race with a lot of baggage. That’s a worse position than she was in the day she announced earlier this year, so it’s clear that she didn’t do herself any favors by running in 2012.

Louise and Maggie Throw Down

Last night’s Voice of the Voter debate was a pretty good debate. No new territory was covered, and I doubt that it changed anyone’s mind. Those tuning in to see if Louise still has it saw that she’s still pretty sharp. Those who wanted to see Brooks attack Slaughter hard would have been disappointed. I thought Slaughter’s attacks were more pointed and frequent, though neither really went at the other.

In the opening statements, we got a taste of what was coming:

Slaughter: “My opponent often likes to say “All eyes are on Monroe County”. Unfortunately those eyes include the State Controller, the Attorney General and the FBI.”

Brooks: This is a decision between the best of our community and the worst of Washington…Louise Slaughter just isn’t for us anymore.

This was the basic theme each emphasized throughout the debate. Slaughter bolstered her claim with two often-repeated pieces of evidence:  Monroe County is $392 million in debt, and the only worse-run county in New York is Rockland County.  Brooks pointed out that Slaughter’s ads on this point had been ruled as misleading, and she said she had been “disappointed” many times by those who work for her. At no point that I remember did Brooks take any responsibility for what happened during her tenure as County Executive – certainly nothing like “the buck stops here” ever escaped her lips.

Maggie’s main specific that she trotted out repeatedly was the lie that the $716 million cut from Medicare Advantage will reduce benefits. This has been debunked repeatedly, and Slaughter went at it in a couple of ways, including pointing out that the cut made Medicare solvent for 8 more years, and that Paul Ryan’s version of that cut just returned the money to insurance companies instead of being used to keep Medicare solvent.

When the topic of development came up, Slaughter mentioned laundry lists of the cash she brought into the district, while Brooks argued that the federal government needs to stand out of the way.

When asked to explain why she wanted to repeal Obamacare, Maggie resorted to claiming that the bill was passed on a partisan line and she doesn’t like the way it was debated in the House. Lyndon Johnson twisted arms to get the Voting Rights Act passed, and nobody likes arm twisting. I guess we need to repeal that, too.

At the end, Brooks returned to her theme of the night, “Rochester Louise” versus “Washington Louise”.  Slaughter finished out with “You know me, I’m no stranger”.

WXXI says the video of the debate will be posted later this weekend on their YouTube channel for those of you who want to replay it.

Update: The debate is available on the 13-WHAM site now.

Second Siena Poll Shows Brooks Gaining

The latest Siena Poll [pdf] shows Louise Slaughter with a 4 point lead over Maggie Brooks. That’s consistent with Charlie Cook’s new NY-25 PVI released a few days ago, D+5. That means, all other things being equal, a Democrat has a five point advantage in this district.

The question for next month is whether Brooks’ campaign has given Democrats a reason to vote for her instead of Slaughter. The crossstabs show that Brooks cut into Slaughter’s huge Democratic preference (Slaughter’s down to 81% vs 86% among Democrats in the last poll), solidified her Republican base a bit (2% gain), but is losing some ground among Independents.

Clutch My Pearls, Maggie Brooks Goes Negative

The top ad is the sunshine and roses ad that Maggie Brooks released earlier this month, accompanied by the fanfare of a press release.

Be sure you have your smelling salts handy before you watch the bottom ad, because it is the kind of ad that Maggie’s campaign manager was calling “negative, divisive, and deceitful”. It is a bog-standard anti-incumbent ad, highlighting the number of times Slaughter voted for a House pay raise, and calling out every time that Slaughter voted to raise taxes (one of the votes was in 1993, so Maggie really revs up the wayback machine in this ad). As with Louise’s ad highlighting the issues in Maggie’s tenure as County Executive, these are for the most part all facts, except when Brooks characterizes cap and trade as a massive tax hike, which is false.

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Finally, A Poll

Siena has Louise Slaughter up by 10 points over Maggie Brooks in NY-25. The internals [pdf] are interesting:

  • Louise’s favorables (59%) are higher than Maggie’s (51%). Barack Obama’s favorables (55%) are also higher than Maggie’s, so running an anti-Obama campaign (on Brooks’ part) or running away from Obama (by Slaughter) don’t make a lot of sense.
  • Voters believe Slaughter would do a better job in every category (jobs, health care, education, Afghanistan, taxes and representing Rochester in DC) except the federal deficit, where Brooks has a slight edge.
  • Louise has a 50/39 lead over Brooks among Independents. And Brooks leads Slaughter 50/39 among Independents. 21% of Republicans say they’ll vote for Slaughter, versus 11% of Democrats who support Brooks.
  • Only the Western suburbs favor Brooks (53/43). Slaughter leads in the East (49/45), which is consistent with how those suburbs have voted in other Congressional elections.

Overall, there’s no good news for Brooks in this poll, unless there’s a secret Republican plan to double turnout in Greece and Chili. It’s consistent with the views I’ve expressed here earlier: NY-25 is a Democratic district and Maggie Brooks’ success in low-turnout races doesn’t mean a lot in a Presidential year.

That said, this is just one poll. National polling sites that make incredibly accurate predictions about the Presidential race are powered by hundreds of polls that they combine to limit error. It’s very rare for a Congressional race to get a fraction of the polling attention that even Senate races are getting, so I doubt we’ll see many more polls in this race.

A Lonsberry Decoder Ring

Louise Slaughter has released two ads. The first one was a positive take on jobs and sunk without a trace. The second one was a “negative” ad and got her a bunch of press, including this typically well-done 13WHAM piece by Sean Carroll, which, again, shows that the ad is accurate.

But, as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing better than Bob Lonsberry’s sputtering, meandering column yesterday. Reading it, I wondered if I was reading his take on the race or his effort to show that he’s a big enough drama queen to replace Tyra Banks on America’s Next Top Model. Here’s a prime example:

Because Louise Slaughter has shown her true colors.

After years of playing the role of the sugary-sweet southern grandmother, she has thrown this race into the gutter with the unleashing of a torrent of attack ads.

In order to understand this, you need your Lonsberry decoder:

Bob Says Normal People Say
Torrent A few sprinkles, if it’s weather, or one advertisement, if it’s politics
Gale A little breeze is ruffling the trees
Flood There are puddles in the street and your feet might get wet.
Armageddon Snowstorm of more than 6 inches.

The rest of Lonsberry’s column is similarly ridiculous. He claims that Slaughter has done nothing for Rochester. What a Member of Congress can “do” for a city is always open to a great deal of interpretation. As far as I can tell, Louise “does” what someone with her level of power and seniority can do for Rochester. A couple of recent examples are working with Schumer to get financing for Hickey-Freeman, and putting an amendment in the Defense Authorization Bill that allowed Harris RF to get a $400 million contract. Anyone can do what Bob does in that column, which is to pick two random projects where “there oughta be a law”, but it takes a special brand of Lonsberry brass to generalize from two projects to “Slaughter does nothing”.

One final point: Bob’s burns about 900 words bemoning the awful state of this race, telling us how desperate the Slaughter campaign is, etc. He claims it’s unfair to blame Brooks for what happened while she was County Exec, but like every other press outlet in Rochester, he wasn’t able to call those ads innacurate, because they aren’t.

Boom Goes Louise’s First “Negative” Ad

Louise Slaughter sets the tone I think we were all expecting with this ad. It’s a laundry list of Maggie Brooks’ scandals. As far as I can tell, it’s accurate, and the Brooks campaign hasn’t disputed the content. Let’s see what Curt Smith says:

Political commentator Curt Smith, a former speechwriter for George H.W. Bush, said Slaughter is using the same approach and citing the same issues that Sandra Frankel did when she lost to Brooks last year. He said it’s early for such an ad to appear. “I’m somewhat surprised it is being tried by Louise knowing the approach has failed,” Smith said.

An early negative campaign works when two factors converge — a vulnerable incumbent and an unknown challenger, said Smith and Lovett. Incumbents will jump the gun to depict challengers in a negative light before they can define themselves. But that’s not the case in this race, Smith said.

“The voters do know her opponent,” Smith said. “By and large, every poll and election result shows that voters don’t think of Maggie Brooks as a dishonest person.”

While there has been no recent public polling data on the race, “I think she senses trouble,” Smith said of Slaughter.

This sorry horseshit passes for “analysis” in the Democrat and Chronicle. Curt seems to forget, as usual, that the demographics in this race are completely different from the Brooks/Frankel contest. Of course, data is not Curt’s strong point, so, also as usual, he just makes up “trouble” out of whole cloth, even though no independent polling of this race has been released.

As for the bit of conventional wisdom that negative campaigns only work in the most rarefied of instances, donnez moi un break. The term “negative campaign” is so broad as to be meaningless, and it ignores the substance of the ad.

So let’s put away our smelling salts and look at the content of the ad in the context of this race. Brooks has been running almost entirely on her record as County Executive. Slaughter can either ignore that, and therefore tacitly agree that Brooks’ tenure as County Exec recommends her for Slaughter’s job, or Louise can disagree with it. Obviously, Louise disagrees, and this ad is the form her disagreement took. That’s why they call it a “campaign”, instead of a “cotillion” or a “Sunday drive in the park”. I expect we’ll see something similar from Brooks in the future. If it is as accurate as this ad, I think the voters in Monroe County will survive.

Patronage Accusation Details

The Slaughter campaign sent out the details on Maggie Brooks’ husband’s patronage job at the Monroe County Water Authority. It includes the most controversial accusation, which is that Brooks accompanied her husband to Disneyland and San Diego on the county’s dime, so I’m including it after the break.

As for the politics of this, like everything else in this race, I don’t see much new in the release. People know that Maggie got her husband a cushy job at the Water Authority, and spouses accompany husbands on business trips. The Brooks response, which called this “gutter politics”, was a laugh, since the accusation is a summary of a bunch of public records. The whole “gutter politics” or “politics of division” line that the Brooks campaign is pushing is a waste of time as far as I’m concerned. Everyone knew this thing was going to be a battle royale, and my guess is they’d be disappointed if there weren’t a few fireworks.

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