Senate Democrats choose election strategy: Turn voters against rich, obscure Koch brothers

By Charles Babington

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 10 2014 12:59 p.m. MDT

With this year's election still eight months away, the Koch network already has spent $15 million on Senate races, mostly attacking Democrats over Obamacare. Republicans need to gain six seats to control the 100-member Senate.

Republicans note that liberal billionaires also spend heavily on politics. They point to environmentalist and hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer, who says he will spend at least $100 million on congressional and gubernatorial elections this year.

But Steyer is still examining the field, months after Koch-funded ads began pounding Democrats like Hagan. And Democrats say Steyer will not benefit financially by pushing his climate change agenda, whereas the Kochs' campaign for lower taxes and less regulation would help big businesses like theirs.

Reid, who admits he's no gifted orator, is leading the chorus with bombasts from the Senate chamber.

"Think about what an America rigged by the Koch brothers would look like," he said in one recent speech. "The Koch brothers don't care about creating a strong public education system in America," Reid said, nor a "strong safety net of Medicare and Social Security" or "a guarantee of affordable, quality health insurance for every American. Why? Because the Koch brothers can afford to buy all those benefits and more for themselves."

Reid told reporters: "I'm going to keep talking about them every chance I get because America should not be for sale."

Democratic candidates nationwide are picking up the theme, said Matt Canter of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign committee.

"We've done extensive polling on this," Canter said. "Voters understand that Republicans are pushing a policy agenda that is good for their benefactors, the Koch brothers."

"The message we've tested does not rest on them knowing who Charles and David Koch are," Canter said.

In state after state, Democrats are berating the Kochs in speeches and fundraising appeals.

"To overcome Charles and David Koch's shadowy, fear-mongering TV ads, we have to work harder and be smarter," says a fundraising letter for Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

Koch industries spokesman Steve Lombardo defended the ads. He said, "it is unfortunate that Harry Reid is focused on attacking citizens of the United States rather than the problems facing this country." He said Koch companies employ more than 60,000 Americans.

"I think the American people are smart and will see through this tactic," Lombardo said.

Associated Press writer Philip Elliott in Washington and researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

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