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One of the biggest obstacles to a strong Democratic showing in the 2014 midterm elections is that approval ratings for President Barack Obama are mired in the 40 percent range -- and even lower in many red states.
Because of this, it’s no surprise that the National Republican Congressional Committee -- the House Republicans’ campaign arm -- is creating ads that emphasize the degree to which vulnerable Democratic incumbents have voted with Obama.
We recently found two NRCC ads using virtually identical language on this point. Here, we’ll fact-check an ad that targets Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia. In a separate item, we’ll fact-check an ad attacking Democratic Rep. John Barrow of Georgia.
Rahall, first elected in 1976, represents a district that gave Republican Mitt Romney a whopping 32-point margin of victory over Obama in the 2012 presidential election. It ranks as the second-most Republican district currently represented by a Democrat in the House, making it a prime takeover opportunity for the GOP. (The most Republican district held by a Democrat is the Utah seat occupied by retiring Rep. Jim Matheson.)
Rahall faces state Sen. Evan Jenkins in November, in a race analysts say is one of the most vulnerable seats held by the Democrats.
The ad against Rahall features a constituent, Carrie Overby of Huntington, W.Va. She says, "On the issues that have mattered, Nick Rahall has voted with Barack Obama, whether it's spending, cap-and-trade, EPA regulations, Obamacare."
When she says that, text on the screen says, "Nick Rahall voted with Obama 94 percent of the time." In much smaller type, the ad footnotes this claim to "Congressional Quarterly 2009 vote analysis."
Since data from 2009 would now be five years old, we had a hunch that the NRCC might have ignored a couple of years with lower percentages. It turns out we were right.
Data from the same CQ study shows that Rahall voted with Obama 88 percent of the time in 2010, 65 percent in 2011, 64 percent in 2012 and 58 percent in 2013. (Data for 2014 has not yet been posted.)
That’s not as low as Barrow, who was targeted in the companion ad; Barrow’s score dropped as low as 28 percent in 2012. Still, it shows a degree of voting independence by Rahall that’s not reflected in the NRCC ad. Clearly, the 94 percent figure for voting with Obama was a more attractive one for the NRCC to highlight, but it amounts to cherry-picking.
Asked to justify using the five-year-old data and ignoring later figures, NRCC spokesman Ian Prior said, "It is important for West Virginia voters to know that in 2009, when the Democrats controlled all the levers of government and could push legislation through both chambers of Congress, Nick Rahall voted with Barack Obama 94 percent of the time, including on Obama’s budget, which included a cap-and-trade plan and a $3 billion, 37 percent EPA funding increase to advance his climate agenda."
The NRCC ad said, "Nick Rahall voted with Obama 94 percent of the time."
Rahall did indeed vote with Obama 94 percent of the time -- but that was in 2009, a fact that is footnoted in the ad, albeit in small type. Between 2010 and 2013, Rahall’s voting record was less closely aligned with Obama, bottoming out at 58 percent in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context, so we rate it Half True.
National Republican Congressional Committee, "Carrie" (ad), Sept. 8, 2014
CQ Voting Study, Rep. Nick Rahall, Sept. 12. 2014
Cook Political Report, "Partisan Voting Index: Districts of the 113th Congress," accessed Sept. 12, 2014
Almanac of American Politics, 2010, 2012, 2014 editions
Email interview with Ian Prior, NRCC spokesman, Sept. 12, 2014
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