This past week provided another example of the frictions surrounding Democratic politicians, third party groups that support them, and messaging around the Iraq War.
On Friday, the anti-war group Vote Vets put out an ad in Maine that harshly criticized Republican Sen. Susan Collins' support of the war. The spot, which had $200,000 behind it and was narrated by a veteran, hit the Senator for being complicit in the wasting of federal dollars and lives in Iraq.
"Sen. Susan Collins just stood by and let all of this happen, and still is," says Iraq War veteran Alex Cornell du Houx. "I gave 100 percent in Iraq. I can't afford to give Iraq any more. Call Susan Collins and tell her we want our money back."
Soon after the ad's release, however, the candidate who stood to benefit, Rep. Tom Allen, condemned the spot.
"As the target of weeks of relentless false and negative attacks aired on TV and radio by allies of Senator Collins, Tom Allen knows that distortions such as these ads have no place in this race," said Carol Andrews, Allen's communications director. "Congressman Allen is the candidate in this race who three months ago set a standard for positive communications pleas from third parties. He asked Senator Collins to join him in that effort. That request was refused."
It is not uncommon for congressional and presidential candidates to criticize third-party efforts designed to help their cause. Usually, it is a means of taking the high road while still reaping any political benefits. Legally, they cannot ask that the spot be taken off air. But Allen's statement went still stung, casting the Vote Vet's ad as in the same vein as Republican counterparts ("distortions," as Andrews referred to them). And the congressman's reaction to the spot illustrates just how frustrating it has been in this election cycle for Democratic third party groups to operate.
Already, Barack Obama has implored donors to channel funds through the presidential campaign, in the process drying the well of resources for Vote Vets and other organizations. And while that stance may be softening, many Democratic operatives remain distraught over what they view as missed opportunities to keep Republicans on the defensive. Asked to comment about Allen's reaction to his group's ad, Vote Vets head John Soltz, noted the political implications of dissuading such efforts.
"We think Iraq Veterans, especially from Maine, have a right to have a voice in the debate and we think the veterans of the war are certainly more credible than a Washington politician like Susan Collins," he said. "Politicians have no right to silence their constituents, especially ones who have served their country like in combat like Alex."
UPDATE: Carol Andrews writes to clarify an earlier version of the article which said that the Allen campaign referred to the Vote Vets ad as a "distortion."
"To be clear," she writes, "we didn't say the ad was a distortion. That word was in reference to the barrage of false, negative attacks re EFCA running against us. We did not say the ad was a distortion, false or negative. We simply said that we stand by our three-month-old request for folks to keep it positive."