Tom Kacich: Republicans already in attack mode
The Illinois Republican Party didn't wait long to "go negative" in the 103rd District race between Democrat Carol Ammons and Republican Kristin Williamson, both of whom are seeking to replace retiring state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, in the Illinois House.
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A devastating 30-second spot, paid for by the Illinois Republican Party to benefit the House Republican Organization, starts today on cable television channels in Champaign-Urbana. The ad, which opens with the blast, "Carol Ammons is unethical," was posted to YouTube on Tuesday.
The ad features a lot of the same material that House Speaker Michael Madigan and Sam Rosenberg, the Democrat supported by Madigan in the Democratic Party primary, used against Ammons six months ago: charges that she claimed a college degree from a London-based "diploma mill," that she voted herself a 75 percent pay raise while on the Champaign County Board and that she "was caught making false statements."
Ammons admitted to making mistakes about citing the degree from Walsingham University and falsely saying in 2003 that she had lived at an Urbana address for a year when she was a candidate for the Urbana school board. And in 2011, Ammons voted for an increase in the per diem payments to county board members, from $45 to $80.
It's not so much the content of the anti-Ammons ads that is raising eyebrows, but that they're running so soon in the campaign, even before Williamson has had a chance to define herself with positive, introductory television ads.
Williamson didn't respond when asked to comment about the ads, but her campaign manager, Mark Ballard, wrote, "I wanted you to know, though, that this is not our ad, and we had nothing to do with it."
He later added, "We plan to run a positive campaign all the way through Election Day."
Ammons spokeswoman Stephanie Seawell said "we're disappointed that our opponent has decided to go with a negative ad."
She noted that both Ammons and Williamson said in June that they wanted to run an issues-based campaign.
"Now it seems she's going in another direction and sort of relying on a politics-as-usual approach," Seawell said. "Maybe this was the plan all along, but it seems like a shift in strategy."
But state Rep. Adam Brown, R-Champaign, defended the ad.
"I think it's important going into November that we understand the difference between the candidates, and I think, especially in this race, there's a stark contrast between someone who represents our values and stands for what I believe a lot of Champaign-Urbana families stand for, and somebody who has a troubled past. You look at statements that Carol Ammons has made and the way she's conducted herself, and I think there's a lot to be wary of," Brown said.
"I have concerns about her touting her diploma, which a lot of exposes have shown that the university she claims she gained her degree from is disreputable. And then you look at her residency issues as well. She was less than truthful about where she resided, and so you look at the state of Illinois, and we've been plagued with corruption and untruths, and three of our last five governors have gone to prison, and the last thing I want to see is more dishonesty elected to office," he said. "I think it's important that we show what we believe are the essential facts about the candidates."
Brown admitted that a lot of the material in the ad originated with the Democratic primary.
"That's true, and now the iron is hot to strike, and it's our race to lose," he said.
It should be noted, though, that the attacks on Ammons in the spring were less than successful. She beat Rosenberg, 57 percent to 43 percent.
The local ad buy by the Illinois Republican Party was for $25,036. The TV spots will run through Sept. 21 and will be seen on American Movie Classics, Bravo, CNN, Discovery, ESPN, the Food Network, Fox News, HGTV, the History Channel, Headline News, Lifetime, TLC, TNT and USA.
Meanwhile, the Ammons campaign announced Tuesday that it has been endorsed by the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois (which came with a $5,000 campaign contribution) and the Illinois Education Association and the International Union of Operating Engineers. The Champaign Fire Fighters also announced their support for Ammons, along with a $250 donation.
Although Ammons hasn't started running TV spots yet, her campaign will begin radio advertising on Thursday.
"A local business owner will match dollar for dollar up to $5,250 in donations for radio ads, and we are already more than halfway to that goal," Seawell said.
Politico.com reported Tuesday that House Democrats in Washington "have gradually narrowed their focus to protecting jeopardized incumbents and are likely to seriously invest in only a dozen or so candidates seen as realistic contenders for Republican-held seats."
Retired Judge Ann Callis, who is challenging Rep. Rodney Davis in Illinois' 13th Congressional District which includes Champaign-Urbana, may be in trouble with the Democratic leadership, Politico said, along with Amanda Renteria, a challenger in a California district.
"Neither candidate is now seen as likely to win, and neither is receiving as much attention," the publication said.
But the DCCC still lists Callis' campaign in its top-tier "red-to-blue" category and hasn't canceled any of the TV time it has reserved for Callis, starting later this month.
Asked for a comment on whether the DCCC was yanking its support for Callis, spokesman Brandon Lorenz wrote, "Judge Callis is running a strong campaign talking about her record of reform and holding Congressman Davis accountable for keeping perks like his taxpayer-funded gym during his government shutdown."
Not really a vote of confidence for Callis.
Her spokesman, David Miyashiro, added, "This election won't be decided prematurely by Washington pundits who hype insiders like Rodney Davis."
Davis and Rep. Janice Hahn, a Los Angeles Democrat, are "swapping" vehicles this week as a way to "highlight some very key points in the transportation debate," Davis said on a YouTube video.
He said he would rent an all-electric Nissan Leaf — which is what Hahn drives in her urban district — and that Hahn would drive the same kind of Ford F-150 pickup truck that Davis drives in his central Illinois district.
"We're going to figure out if an electric vehicle in my district's going to work," Davis said.
"And I'm going to figure out if your big old truck is going to work in my district," said Hahn.
I'm betting Davis finds the Nissan Leaf less than practical for his 14-county district. The U.S. EPA says that car can go about 75 miles on a charge. That wouldn't get him from Springfield to Champaign in the 13th District.
Bennett financial correction
The campaign of Illinois House candidate Tom Bennett of Gibson City has corrected information that it sent last month to the State Board of Elections.
A $10,600 contribution that had been attributed to Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner actually was from Rauner and his wife Diana, according to Bennett's campaign treasurer, Martin Nuss.
What's important about the distinction is that the contributions — $5,300 each from Rauner and his wife — don't put Rauner over his limit for support to Bennett, a Republican facing Watseka Democrat William Nutter in the 106th House District.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at email@example.com.