Mar 29, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Democrats target new GOP election foils

Photo illustration of Sens. Rick Scott, Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley with abstract target symbols and rectangles.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Bloomberg, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In digital ads and press releases, Democrats are using Republican Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rick Scott of Florida and Chuck Grassley of Iowa as foils to contrast their party's vision for health care and the economy.

Why it matters: Democrats view recent comments by the three senators as political gifts — and a rare opportunity to go on offense as the party tries to stave off projected midterm losses.

  • The White House has struggled to sharpen its message ahead of this fall, leaving Democrats desperate and begging for better direction.
  • Health care was a winning issue for Democrats during the 2018 midterms and the party hopes that holds true for this cycle.
  • "Ron Johnson said WHAT?!" the Democrats' House fundraising arm — not its usual Senate counterpart — said in a March 10 email soliciting donations that's typical of the new thrust.

The backstory: During a recent interview with Breitbart News Radio, Johnson urged his party to start thinking about what policy items it would prioritize if it takes back the White House, House and Senate in 2024.

  • He cited Republicans' failure to replace the Affordable Care Act — when they had control of Washington — as an example of why it's so important for the GOP to develop a clear legislative plan and agenda now.
  • Democrats jumped on his comments and mischaracterized them in ads and releases.
  • Johnson even released a statement to clarify his position and debunk the misinformation: "I was not suggesting repealing and replacing Obamacare should be one of those priorities. Even when we tried and failed, I consistently said our effort should focus on repairing the damage done by Obamacare and transitioning to a health system that works."

Grassley suggested that if Democrats want to pass something to lower prescription drug costs, they need to do it "now" — before Republicans take control of Congress.

  • And Scott, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), released his own plan for the GOP 2022 agenda should be. It included a call for having all Americans pay income taxes, even high earners who've managed to escape them.
  • Democrats seized on the comment to argue Republicans would raise Americans' taxes if they control Washington.

Driving the news: Making hay off an opposing party's political comments or missteps is Campaign 101.

The Democratic National Committee has been testing messages around lowering prescription drug costs and painting a picture of what might happen to Americans' health care and taxes if Republicans take control of Washington.

The senators were unwitting helpers.

  • Democrats hope to make a clearer contrast between the GOP's health care vision and what the DNC says is "Democrats’ laser focus to lower health care costs and cap prescription drug prices for Americans."
  • During one week this month, the DNC and local parties in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Michigan and Florida hosted press calls, conferences and in-person rallies.

The other side: T.W. Arrighi, a spokesperson for the NRSC, told Axios that Democrats are "panicking and trying to manufacture new issues."

  • "Democrats are grasping at straws to find something to run on because they’ve done a great job messing everything up since taking control of Washington."
  • Emma Vaughn, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, said, "The Biden and Democrat agenda is crushing American families, so it’s truly pathetic to watch Democrats try to lie about it."
  • The campaigns for Scott and Grassley did not immediately return requests for comment.

Between the lines: Democrats aren't just targeting Johnson, Scott and Grassley in their home states, where it could boost challengers or other Democratic candidates on the ballot.

They're attempting to tag Republican Senate candidates with Scott's plan even in places like Ohio, where he's not on the ballot.

  • "The work that is being done on the ground in Senate battleground states will ensure the GOP’s toxic agenda is front and center for voters," Nora Keefe, spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told Axios.
  • “Rest assured, Democrats will hold Republicans’ feet to the fire and ensure Americans see exactly what’s at stake if Republicans win control," said Ammar Moussa, a DNC spokesperson.
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