Update below: Tim Kaine responds.
The 2010 election campaign season took an abrupt and aggressive turn in the last 24 hours, as two Republican campaign committees accused the Obama White House of "shamelessly" engaging in "race-baiting" in an effort to hold congressional majorities.
In an email blasted to reporters Wednesday morning, National Republican Campaign Committee spokesman Ken Spain charged DNC Chairman Tim Kaine with playing "the race card from the bottom of the deck." Kaine's offense? The committee chairman is set to outline a mid-term election strategy on Wednesday that relies heavily on the turnout of "black, Latino or young voters" and warns of potential "voter suppression" by Republicans.
(Spain links to a Wall Street Journal story about the speech titled "Democrats Take New Tack to Rally Base." Only, in his email, he gives it the following headline: "DNC CHIEF: DEMS PLAN TO RACE BAIT TO SAVE MAJORITY.")
Alone, the NRCC's race-baiting charge is a newsworthy reflection of how eager the campaign committee is to take off the gloves in this early campaign season. But what stands out as remarkable about the Spain email is that it echoed a line offered the night before by the Republican National Committee.
"Only days after our post-racial president made an appeal based on class warfare and race, Gov. Kaine is doing the same thing," RNC spokesman Doug Heye told Politico. "It tells you how bad things are for them. Desperate times call for desperate measures, only now it's on an advanced timetable."
Certainly the attempt to charge Kaine and, by extension, Obama with playing racial politics appears to be a coordinated effort on behalf of the Republican Party apparatus to set the rules of the 2010 debate early on. It's an extension of attacks offered by Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008, in which aides charged then-Senator Obama with playing the race card "from the bottom of the deck," for predicting that McCain would use racially-themed attacks. Those attacks, McCain aides reflected later, did well to move skeptical white voters (the type of constituency the GOP is leaning on even more heavily this year).
Asked for a response, DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse sent over the following email:
"Republicans are doing what they always do - doing what Michael Steele did in the power point he prepared that depicted the President as the joker - stoking fear because they don't have one idea for how to move the country forward. Working to turn out voters who were new to the process in 2008 - the majority of which as a matter of fact were people of color and young people - is no more an appeal to race than Michael Steele saying he's going to bring a "hip hop" makeover to the Republican Party or an "urban" feel to the GOP. The fact is, while the RNC has a declining bank account and a deficit of ideas, we're going to spend $50 million turning out everyone from rural voters in Southwest Virginia to urban voters in the Philadelphia to suburban voters in Ohio."
UPDATE - 2PM ET:
Democratic National Committee Chair Tim Kaine called Republican charges that he was playing the race card "ridiculous," "desperate" and part of an overall pattern of bizarre behavior coming from the GOP.
Following a lunch organized by the Christian Science Monitor, Kaine scoffed at criticism that his efforts to bring young and minority voters to the polls in 2010 constituted race-baiting.
"I think they are desperate," he replied. "They see an increasing success story, whether it is foreign policy successes, whether it is economic recovery, whether it is big historic things like health reform or Wall Street reform, they see it."
Is this an omen of the tone being set for the 2010 elections?
"There is going to be a lot of weird stuff from the other side," Kaine replied, pointing to the controversy surrounding the RNC's use of fundraising mailers disguised as census forms, which he called "clearly illegal."
"But every time they do that... every time they do something that is really negative, or kind of whacky or off topic, they are making our case for us," he added.
"It was just a week ago that [RNC Chairman] Michael Steele was saying [the GOP] hasn't done enough to reach out to minority voters... I didn't put out a press statement accusing him of race baiting or anything improper.... That is completely non-controversial. So the fact that they would want to immediately jump to throw around those charges is an indication to me they are kind of desperate in trying to find out what their message is."
Earlier in the day, two GOP campaign committees -- the National Republican Campaign Committee and the RNC -- both accused Kaine of race-baiting by laying out an 2010 strategy that relied on bringing young and minority voters to the polls. The message seemed obviously coordinated and designed to dominate the press coverage of Kaine's rollout of the party's 2010 election strategy.
UPDATE - 3PM ET:
RNC Chairman Michael Steele has now weighed into the debate as well, sending out the following statement:
"Chairman Kaine's new strategy smacks of desperation as it has become increasingly clear Democrats have lost the independents who will be the deciding voice this fall. Even worse, as public approval of ObamaCare continues to drop, it's obvious that Democrats have given up any hope of getting them back.
"Under President Obama and Congressional Democrats, the only people who have seen 'results' are the labor unions and special interests that funded their campaigns, while everyday Americans feel that they have been shut out of the democratic process. Their candidates are heading into the midterms in the unenviable position of running on a record that includes raising taxes, running up the federal credit card, and doing nothing to address record-breaking unemployment.
"Out of options, the President and his top campaign aide are going back to the Democrats' worn-out playbook and making false and reprehensible accusations of voter suppression. At what point will Chairman Kaine and the Democrats realize that polarizing this country on the lines of race is not only passé, it's wrong and ineffective. Americans have long seen through this ploy and yet Chairman Kaine insists on engaging in such tired claims of voter suppression without any facts.