EDINA, Minn. -- Jim Meffert is the Democrat seeking to unseat first-term Republican Congressman Erik Paulsen in Minnesota's 3rd District. If you haven't heard of Meffert it's understandable, because he's a political newcomer with a shoestring budget that hasn't allowed him to compete in the TV ad wars yet.
But his image and name have made it to television via attack ads from the Paulsen campaign. The ad criticizes Meffert for his "negative campaigning" and accuses him of trying to hide his "extreme agenda."
Why Paulsen. with a strong lead in fundraising and the power of the incumbency, would give name recognition to his relatively unknown opponent is perplexing to some observers.
"Given how little money that Meffert has, you would've thought Paulsen would've just ignored Meffert completely and just run a positive campaign," political analyst Dave Schultz or Hamline University's Graduate School of Management told KARE.
Paulsen's campaign manager Tim Commers told KARE, "Erik always sprints hard and fast to the finish line. He's not taking anything for granted in this election."
Meffert called the attack ad just another example of what's wrong with politics as usual in Washington.
"It's the kind of thing that makes people cynical about politics and politicians," he told KARE, "When you hide behind a big bank account and you throw up an ad that's designed to tear down your opponent."
Commers said, although Meffert hasn't advertised on TV yet, his web ads highlighting Rep. Paulsen's voting record were negative. Those ads were viewed, on average, 500 times on YouTube, which is a fraction of the eyeballs that will see anti-Meffert ad on TV.
One of the ads questions Paulsen's vote against a bill to expand the Pell Grant program for college students. Another Meffert web ad reports that Paulsen voted against a special fund to help community banks extend loans to small businesses.
"When the National Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses have both endorsed Erik Paulsen, how can anyone say he's not pro-business?" Commers said, complaining about the web ad.
Meffert said his web ads merely highlight instances in which Paulsen's rhetoric didn't match his votes with a bloc of Republican legislators. Meffert's has taken a similar tack in some of his campaign literature.
He pointed out, for instance, that Paulsen voted against the Obama stimulus bill but took part in a ground breaking for the Highway 610 extension in Maple Grove last September. The road project is being financed, in part, with stimulus money according to the Minnesota Dept. of Transportation.
Content of anti-Meffert ad
Meffert, who in his younger days led the Saint Olaf chapter of the College Republicans, considers himself a centrist Democrat. He has spent most of his career as an executive for medical organizations and nonprofits. He was taken aback by the tone of the attack ad, which characterized him as an extreme liberal.
"I still believe government is the last option, but it needs to be there. And it needs to be effective when we need it," Meffert said, "And that represents the majority of people in the 3rd District."
Schultz says the ad appears to be part of a generic Republican message.
"This has the feel of a canned attack, put together as part of a broader Republican stategy for how to run against Democrats in general this year," Schultz remarked.
For example, the ad states, "Meffert's for the trillion dollar government healthcare takeover" and "a massive $500 billion cut in Medicare."
An aging woman then appears on camera saying, "Jim Meffert; don't cut my Medicare."
The statements are misleading, because the Affordable Care Act is designed to save $500 billion in Medicare by slowing the growth of the program with better managed care and coordination of benefits, rather cutting existing members' benefits.
And to characterize reform as a "government takeover" implies a single-payer system, which was rejected early in the process of health reform.
"It will cost nearly a trillion dollars over 10 years," Schultz said, "But to say it constitutes a 'take-over' is not true, especially when private insurance companies will still be providing the bulk of insurance."
Schultz said national Democrats now pouring millions into the 6th District race, in hopes of defeating Rep. Michele Bachmann, might find their money better spent on the 3rd District race.
Meffert and his supporters have argued he's a better fit for a district that voted with Obama in 2008, and a Congressional seat that was held by moderate Republican Jim Ramstad for 18 years before Paulsen won in 2008.
"If Meffert were to get some money for advertising, that could become a competitive race," Schultz said.
Meffert's campaign has noted that Paulsen voted with conservative colleague Michele Bachmann more than 90 percent of the time. But Paulsen's campaign manager, Commers, bristles at the notion that Paulsen's too conservative for the district.
He cited a vote evaluation by the National Journal in 2009, which put Paulsen's conservative ranking at 144th out of 435. Bachmann was ranked at 28.
Related: the debt graph controversy.
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