A new George Washington University battleground poll conducted by the Tarrance Group and Lake Research shows that 52 percent of likely voters have never heard of Charles and David Koch.
No surprise there — but by November that may change, certainly in states with key Senate races. As the flood of money from the billionaire brothers pays for attack ads in states like North Carolina, Colorado, Alaska, Arkansas and many more, the name Koch will become infamous.
They were once known for endowing Lincoln Center; now they may be known for almost singlehandedly destroying the party of Lincoln.
I am having a little deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say. In the late 1970s and early '80s, an independent expenditure group, the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), came rolling into states spending large sums to attack Democratic senators. The NCPAC's head, Terry Dolan, once said, "We can lie through our teeth and the candidate we help stays clean ... we can elect Mickey Mouse to the House or Senate." In other words, NCPAC was the slash-and-burn group, much like the Koch brothers of today.
It took some time, but senators like Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) and John Melcher (D-Mont.) found that they could take NCPAC on and discredit both the message and the messenger. "Out-of-state extremists coming in with millions and telling us how to vote" was a strong argument.
The dilemma these days, with so much clutter on the airwaves, is how to make sure the campaign stays on message with the actual opponent but also incorporates a bit of jujitsu to ensure the Koch brothers' millions are used against them.
By November, voters in these key states should know the amount of money they have spent, the tactics they have implored and the right-wing agenda they espouse.
Here are some thoughts on just how to take them on and still stay on message in your campaign.
Define the Koch brothers for who they are and what they stand for. Extremist. Some of the wealthiest people in the world — worth $80 billion. Intent on buying elections.
They have decided that they can manipulate you with their millions. They have decided they can lie in their ads with false testimonials on the Affordable Care Act and get away with it. They want to win at all costs. The unprecedented expenditures are a drop in the bucket for them. Compute how much they make in a minute, an hour, a day, a week and what they are spending in your state on television.
Poke fun at them — use humor to break through the clutter. Melcher did that in 1982 with his famous "talking cows" ad going after NCPAC.
Tie the Koch brothers to the Republican candidate. Make your opponent either endorse them or repudiate them. Don't let your opponent ignore the effort to buy the election and distort the facts.
Go viral with online pieces that tell the whole story of the Koch brothers — longer than a 30-second ad. Shine the light of day on them.
Have press conferences to illustrate the absurd nature of what they are trying to do and how much they are spending doing it. How many poor people could they feed, house, clothe? How many people in foreclosure could they help? How many jobs could they support? How many hospitals and clinics could they build? How many nurses could they hire?
The basic point is, don't let the Koch brothers off the hook; make them an issue. Keep your focus on your opponent and your message but don't fail to make the Koch brothers the albatross around the neck of the Republicans that they should be.
Contact Fenn at firstname.lastname@example.org.