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It’s That Time Again: Mindless Press Releases, 2005 Edition

Longtime readers of this column know that occasionally I look at some of the silliest, most misleading and overzealous press releases that I receive. Unfortunately (or is it fortunately?) I’ve already received several. [IMGCAP(1)]

The Nebraska Democratic Party tried to be just a little too cute recently in its effort to portray Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) as unenthusiastic about the Senate candidacy of former state Attorney General Don Stenberg (R).

“Hagel Again Declines to Endorse Stenberg, Unless Nobody Else Runs,” proclaimed the Democrats’ release, suggesting that the Senator would endorse anybody but Stenberg and downplaying the Republican’s statement that he would enthusiastically endorse Stenberg if he doesn’t draw a primary opponent.

The April 29 release notes that Hagel has already endorsed Gov. David Heineman (R), who moved up from lieutenant governor after then-Gov. Mike Johanns became Agriculture secretary near the start of President Bush’s second term. The release argues that Hagel is basically dissing Stenberg by not endorsing him, too.

“Senator Hagel needs to come clean [!!] about why he isn’t endorsing Don Stenberg as ‘enthusiastically’ as he did Dave Heineman,” says Nebraska Democratic Party Executive Director Barry Rubin in the release.

Of course, Nebraska Democrats conveniently ignore the fact that Heineman is the sitting governor, while Stenberg isn’t an incumbent of any kind.

This is one of those unnecessary releases that seeks to make something out of nothing. As far as I can tell, Sen. Ben Nelson (D), whom Stenberg wants to challenge, doesn’t have much to worry about when he runs again next year. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which circulated the Nebraska Democratic Party’s press release, ought to spend its time more usefully.

But the Nebraska Democratic Party’s release pales in comparison with a couple of releases I’ve received recently from the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

An April 29 NRSC release with a huge headline crowed: “Whoops!!! Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid [D-Nev.] Admits It Would Take A Miracle For Democrats To Retake The Senate In 2006.”

Apparently, it never occurred to the folks at the NRSC that anybody in politics would actually tell the truth about something.

Reid’s comment wasn’t a “whoops” at all. It’s a statement of the obvious. Democrats would need to net six Senate seats to win a majority — an impossibility barring a tsunami (or, in Reid’s terms, a miracle).

Reid enhanced his credibility with me by admitting the obvious, while the NRSC press release had the opposite effect. There would have been nothing wrong with a Republican release simply noting Reid’s comment, of course, but that would have taken some self-restraint.

Then there’s the NRSC release about the Pennsylvania Senate contest: “Where’s the Beef? Bob Casey, Jr. Offers Nothing of Substance On The Most Important Issues Facing Pennsylvanians Today.”

Since it’s 18 months until the next election, and since voters won’t pay any attention to the race for at least another year, I’m not sure that Casey needs to offer a lot of “beef” right now. And any reporter who thinks that Casey needs to run his campaign according to the NRSC’s schedule probably ought to look for a different line of work.

We all understand that Republicans want to discredit Casey quickly, but mindless press releases aren’t the way. (At least this one wasn’t filled with typos in the headlines, the way another recent NRSC one was.)

But as silly as the Nebraska Democratic Party and NRSC releases are, they come nowhere near the gall of a release by Senate hopeful Ed Bryant (R-Tenn.).

The April 6 release’s headline, “New Poll Shows Bryant Leading GOP Field,” isn’t the problem. It’s the sub-head: “Corker’s Growth in Polls Stalled by Record of Higher Taxes.”

Corker’s “growth,” of course, hasn’t “stalled” because of anything, since nobody is paying enough attention to the Tennessee Senate race or the GOP primary to draw conclusions from early polling.

The “new poll” in the Bryant release is interesting for a number of other reasons. First, it was conducted by a Democratic firm, The Global Strategy Group, for Democratic Senate hopeful Rep. Harold Ford Jr. It’s nice to know that Bryant has enough confidence in a Democratic survey to write a release about it.

Second, the survey’s numbers actually contradict the Bryant release proclaiming Corker has “stalled.” The Ford poll showed Corker at 15 percent, while two earlier polls (one for Bryant and one for former Congressman Van Hilleary (R-Tenn.), who is also running for the Senate) showed Corker at only 8 percent and 13 percent.

And third, the Bryant release says that the overall poll of 600 likely voters and the sub-sample of 190 Republicans (yes, only 190 Republicans) “each had a margin of +/- 6%.” Is it too much to hope that the people writing Bryant’s release might be aware that a poll’s margin of error is based on the size of the sample, and that a sample of 600 and another of 190 can’t possibly have the same margin or error?

But my fundamental problem with the release is that it masquerades as a survey analysis, when it is nothing more than propaganda, or rather advocacy. The “analysis” is simply Bryant’s campaign attacking Corker. Attack if you must, even if nobody is watching, but at least have the chutzpah to do it directly and honestly.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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