Congressman David Valadao’s new attack ad churned up a lot of talk in political circles, including speculation about why his team flew the piece so close to Election Day.
Just two weeks ago, Valadao was touting his bright, sunny image advertisements.
“I’d like to try to keep it as positive as possible,” he said then.
This week's ad implies Democratic challenger Emilio Huerta bilked poor people in 2006 when he inked a $1.1 million profit on a real estate deal with a charitable arm of the United Farm Workers union – a charity for which he'd served as a governing board member.
Cal State Bakersfield political science professor Mark Martinez said the attack is good news for Huerta.
“You only go negative when you’re in trouble. Whatever internal polling they’re doing – it's too close,” Martinez said.
He said Valadao’s team must see the race as too close and so is aiming to hit hard.
“What (Huerta’s) been doing is actually working,” Martinez said.
Russell Johnson, a Republican government affairs coordinator and former Bakersfield City Council member, said the move is more to prevent a Huerta move than to blunt Huerta’s progress.
Last week, the Democratic House Majority PAC dropped an estimated $600,000 into the 21st District race with ads tying Valadao to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who is unpopular in the rural, Democratic 21st District where Latinos are a majority.
Valadao, Johnson said, doesn’t want any more D.C. money wandering into his race.
“Back in D.C. they are polling and if the ads are moving the needle then more cash will be coming into the race,” Johnson said.
Valadao is pushing negative ads into the race to keep the polls where they are so Democrats don’t see a financial benefit to backing Huerta.
“It’s a smart move on Valadao’s part right now to go with this ad,” Johnson said. “As long as he can keep the D.C. money out of this race, then this is an easy win for him.”
Cal State Bakersfield political science professor Kent Price said Valadao is just abiding by the rules of campaigns.
“Valadao is just following the first rule of negative advertising, which is when you get hit, you hit back harder,” he said.
If the House Majority PAC ad went unanswered, it would start sinking into voters' minds, Price said, and the race would shift Huerta’s way.
Price said launching the ad did cost Valadao something — technically he is first to go negative.
The House Majority PAC ran its hit piece on its own and, by law, couldn’t coordinate with Huerta’s campaign.
“If Valadao says, ‘Well, he hit me first,’ Emilio’s response is, 'I didn’t hit you,'” Price said.
Price said he actually expected Valadao’s ad to hit earlier.
Valadao might have been waiting, he said, to see if a Republican PAC would drop the hammer on Huerta for him.
“Valadao was probably waiting for someone to do his dirty work for him,” Price said.
Indeed, Valadao campaign spokesman Cole Rojewski argued Wednesday that Valadao was focusing on walking neighborhoods and spreading good will.
“David is out there maintaining a positive campaign,” he said.
But, he acknowledged when pressed, Valadao did authorize the negative ad, “to give voters a background on who they’re voting on.”
And, observers said, Valadao’s ad was really, really good.
“The symbols and the language and the music and the fast pace and the brevity of the ad – it's an effective ad,” Price said.
It’s also clear Valadao is aiming to sour Huerta with the Latino Democrats who are his base of support, they said.
“The language in the ad is designed to get people on the Huerta side of the fence unexcited about Huerta,” Johnson said. “They’re not talking to anyone on the right with that ad. They’re talking to people on the left.”
But how accurate is the Valadao ad?
It’s about as accurate as the House Majority PAC ad that tried to tie Valadao to Trump with the year-old promise to support any Republican nominee for president that he made while there was still a pile of candidates in the race.
Sure, Valadao made that statement.
But after Trump became the nominee, Valadao pulled his support from Trump, condemning what he considers the nominee's divisive rhetoric and attitude toward women.
Emotions are what works in negative advertising, Price said.
Facts are secondary.
That maxim is true of Valadao’s ad as well, he said.
“It takes two or three pieces of truth that are not connected" and puts them together, Price said. “There’s the implication that Emilio made a million dollars. He didn’t. There’s the implication that Emilio broke the law. He didn’t.”
There’s a kernel of truth to the facts both ads use, Price said.
And that’s enough.