Local Columnists

Dave Helling: Democrats, Republicans change ballot for partisan advantage

In a coming book, Sen. Claire McCaskill will discuss here 2012 re-election campaign. She says the book will discuss her strategy to put Republican Todd Akin on the ballot.
In a coming book, Sen. Claire McCaskill will discuss here 2012 re-election campaign. She says the book will discuss her strategy to put Republican Todd Akin on the ballot. The Associated Press

Sometime soon, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill will publish a book discussing her 2012 re-election campaign and her easy victory over Republican Todd Akin.

In that tome, McCaskill promises to discuss the secret strategy behind her push to put Akin on the GOP ballot. Akin was the one candidate she wanted most to face that year.

You’ll remember that McCaskill’s campaign ran a TV commercial calling Akin the “most conservative” Republican in the Senate primary. She later insisted the spot was the deciding factor in Akin’s primary victory over Sarah Steelman and John Brunner.

Maybe. Like all things McCaskill, the story is an exaggeration: You could make an equally good case that Akin won the primary because a so-called prayer amendment was on the ballot that August, or because he was already in Congress, unlike his GOP opponents.

In any case, the Missouri Democrat must have enjoyed her little taste of ballot manipulation, because she gleefully admitted recently she called Democrat Chad Taylor to discuss his Senate candidacy in Kansas.

Taylor, as you know, ended his campaign.

It’s pretty easy to chuckle at this, while missing an important question: Why should any outside elected official try to alter voters’ choices at the polls?

McCaskill didn’t call Taylor because she disagreed with his politics, after all. She wanted him out of the race in order to manipulate the ballot — to arrange voters’ choices for perceived partisan advantage.

A couple of days later, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach put Taylor on the ballot. For legal reasons? Uh, no. To arrange voters’ choices for perceived partisan advantage.

McCaskill and Kobach, it turns out, were engaged in precisely the same behavior — more worried about partisan politics than the voters’ voice.

This kind of behavior is not new, of course. Politicians have lined up for a shot at the top of the ballot, believing that’s a help. Office holders have recruited candidates with names similar to an opponent’s, hoping to confuse the electorate. Some have even claimed to influence a primary by airing manipulative commercials designed to elect the opposing party’s weakest candidate. (See McCaskill, above.)

Voters are deeply cynical about politics and politicians, perhaps more than at any time in my career. This kind of behavior can only add to that cynicism. Bragging about it makes it worse.

Perhaps McCaskill will tackle this issue in her book. It hasn’t been published yet, so there’s always hope.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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