Candidates Are Twisting Their Positions Ahead of the Midterms

(Bloomberg) -- In the closing days of the 2018 midterm election, the political world looks at times upside down.

There’s the Republican candidate arguing that his Democratic opponent won’t stand up to President Donald Trump. An ad by the party aligned with the fossil fuel industry tells voters that a candidate of the party that’s antagonistic to coal is weak on climate change. A Democrat promises to back tougher immigration enforcement while several Republicans depict themselves as defenders of Obamacare rules.

Scrapping for every vote in intensely competitive races, candidates are shading, twisting and recasting their own records and those of their opponents, aligning with causes popular in their district or state and distancing themselves from stances that aren’t. It’s a common tactic for candidates, but it’s reached unusual levels this year.

“The attempted role reversals in this campaign are just bonkers,” said Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California. “Kind of like Bonnie and Clyde portraying themselves as champions of bank security.”

Republican Representative Kevin Yoder, a loyal supporter of White House policies who’s at risk of losing his seat in the Kansas City area, recently suggested his Democratic opponent, Sharice Davids, may not "actually stand up to President Trump," the Kansas City Star reported.

His evidence: Davids held an apolitical fellowship at the Department of Transportation granted under former President Barack Obama and which extended into the Trump administration.

‘Dirty Coal Money’

In a competitive South Florida district now represented by two-term Republican Representative Carlos Curbelo, the National Republican Congressional Committee is running a TV ad accusing Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign of being "flooded with dirty coal money, the very polluters that threaten our way of life in the Keys."

The NRCC is the election arm of House Republicans, who have backed Trump’s moves to bolster the coal industry by rolling back environmental regulations.

Immigration Crackdown

In Missouri, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill wants voters to know she’s "100 percent" supportive of Trump’s efforts to crack down on a migrant caravan making its way to the U.S. from Central America, ostensibly to apply for asylum. "I do not want our borders overrun. And I support the president’s efforts to make sure they’re not," McCaskill said in a recent interview on Fox News.

The Trump-friendly rhetoric raised eyebrows among Republicans given that McCaskill voted against a Trump-backed immigration bill in February and has criticized his immigration policies. It comes as McCaskill runs dead even in a CNN poll against Trump-endorsed Republican Josh Hawley in a state that the president carried by 19 points in 2016.

Health Care

In a swath of House races, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP super-PAC, is painting Democrats as opponents of Medicare because the Obama-era Affordable Care Act included some $700 billion in reimbursement cuts to providers and insurers. The group is aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose budget proposals have included the same cuts, and who has spent years arguing that Democrats are too timid to accept the need to cut Medicare.

As many polls find health care at the top of 2018 voter concerns, Republican Senate candidates like Hawley and West Virginia’s Patrick Morrisey vow to protect Obamacare’s pre-existing condition rules. Both men are state attorneys general and have signed on to a lawsuit that seeks to wipe out those protections. In addition, Arizona Senate candidate Martha McSally and Nevada Senator Dean Heller say they’ve acted to protect pre-existing condition rules even though both have championed bills that allow states to waive those rules.

Jim Manley, a lobbyist and ex-spokesman for former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, blamed the president’s frequent exaggerations and false statements for the spread of such campaigning.

“Trump has shown the way for Republicans,” he said. “There are no rules anymore and there are no consequences, at least not yet, for violating the customs and norms when it comes to truth-telling.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.