Republicans in tight races are closing out the election with ads blasting their Democratic opponents for supporting last summer's nuclear deal with Iran, while Democrats are remaining largely silent about the broadly unpopular agreement, according to media analysis provided to THE WEEKLY STANDARD and interviews with GOP pollsters and campaign strategists.And where did the only two ads that favored the deal come from?
Liberal groups that favored the deal and urged Democrats to back it have been left to counter the Republican push and the perception that support for the deal is electorally damaging. These groups have launched a media effort suggesting that prominent Democrats are in fact eager to run on the deal, a claim that strategists told TWS is at odds with data about campaign spending and messaging.
An analysis of advertisements provided to TWS by a campaign media expert found that over 100 Republican broadcast federal campaign ads mention the Iran deal, while only three Democratic television ads focused on it. One of the three advertisements was released by a Nebraska congressman who says he opposed the deal and describes how he "stood up to my own party."
The other two Democratic advertisements came from the liberal advocacy group J Street, which told reporters last month it was releasing ads for states like Illinois and Wisconsin. The spots counter the perception that Democrats are being damaged for backing the Obama administration's diplomacy toward Iran.
But pollsters and strategists cast doubt on the specifics of J Street's campaign, and on the broader suggestion that Democrats were willing to campaign on their support for the deal.
A GOP pollster working on several races this cycle told TWS that to their knowledge, "not a single Democratic campaign in a competitive race is running this as a positive message." If Iran deal backers really thought the deal was a "'winning' issue that would bring new voters into the fold," the pollster added, they would have targeted Republicans in "reach" or "red" states, especially states like Arizona with significant Hispanic votes.
Asked specifically about the J Street ad buy, the pollster speculated that the group was trying to create the impression that the Iran deal was boosting candidates by choosing races in states that Obama won in 2012 by 5 to 16 percent—and suggested the campaign was backfiring.
"J Street picked 'safe' seats early in the year, and are probably shocked that at least a couple of them have become competitive, [and] their donors would probably be more shocked to learn the Iran Deal is a significant part of why," explained the pollster. "Essentially, J Street and the Iran Deal are alienating swing voters in what should have been easy-to-win races."
A senior official at a national Jewish organization said ..."J Street and other Iran backers promised Democrats that they'd have electoral cover if they voted for the Iran deal. But by the end of 2015 the public opposed the deal 2:1, and that's where the number has stayed," said the official. "Supporting the Iran deal is electoral poison, and politicians who have their seats on the line know that better than anyone. No amount of Potemkin spending is going to fool them."
This Reuters article from October, when it was assumed that Trump's campaign was fatally wounded, agrees that Republicans used their opposition to the Iran deal as their main talking points to get voters while distancing themselves at the time from Trump.
Indeed, the Free Beacon reports that even on the presidential level, the Clinton camp decided to distance themselves from supporting the Iran deal in the campaign:
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton drafted plans to aggressively campaign on the comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran after it was announced last summer, but quietly abandoned the tactic as the deal grew more unpopular among the electorate, according to leaked campaign strategy documents.What does J-Street say about its campaign to get people elected based on their support for the Iran deal?
The plan, outlined by Team Clinton in a July 25, 2015 strategy memo, would have involved deluging the media with positive stories praising the deal and crediting Clinton for originating and pushing it. The plan was shelved as the agreement’s popularity plummeted over the next few months and hardened into broad public disapproval.
Instead, campaign staffers began emphasizing distance between Clinton and the deal’s final terms, even as the former secretary of state publicly states the agreement was necessary, mirroring a broad trend during the election in which Democrats avoid bringing up the deal, according to multiple sources who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.
They admit that "the campaign is the first and only national effort to defend the Iran agreement in the context of the 2016 elections" and claim "We aim to exact a cost from the deal’s most strident opponents."
In fact, most of the candidates that J-Street pushed have seen their leads narrow since they ran these ads.