WASHINGTON -- A Kansas business group is characterizing local Democrats in state legislative races as President Barack Obama's closest allies in mail pieces being circulated around the state.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce has been sending out mail in state House and Senate districts, describing Democrats as Obama's biggest allies in passing health care reform and as "too radical, too costly, hurting Americans." The mail pieces follow a successful strategy that the Chamber and other conservative groups used in defeating moderate Republican senators in the August primary.
Democrats targeted by the pieces, which have been circulated with the same message in various districts, have been fighting back, noting that in some cases they haven't met Obama, who is the son and grandson of Kansas natives.
"I am fairly confident that President Obama doesn't know I exist," state Sen. Kelly Kultala (D-Kansas City) told HuffPost. "It is a political hatchet piece. I've never met him. I've never contacted him."
Rep. Sean Gatewood (D-Topeka) described the mail pieces, which accused him of being part of an "Obama-Gatewood Liberal Agenda," as "attacks gone wild."
"I'm not sure what that agenda is," Gatewood said. "I have never met him."
Jeff Glendening, the treasurer of the Chamber of Commerce PAC, told HuffPost that the mail pieces have been similar around the state, using the same wording to juxtapose Obama and legislators or candidates. He said that the Democrats having met, spoken to or spent time with Obama in any form is not the message, which is rather a question of political philosophy. He said that Democrats in the state legislature would share Obama's philosophy of government.
"If you look at voting patterns and philosophy of government, it is similar to Obama," Glendening said. "We ask if you want someone in Topeka who thinks like Barack Obama. Just because you haven't met someone doesn't mean you don't think alike."
Glendening added that he believes voters are responding well to the ads, noting that they worked during the primary. "I think people do make the connection," he said.
Among the issues on which the chamber is claiming the candidates think like the president are support for the Affordable Care Act, cuts to Medicare funding and for policies that lead to higher energy and food costs. Glendening suggested the Medicare cuts are linked to the health care plan, and that increases in energy and food costs stem from other Obama policies. Within the state, he said Democrats opposed a tax cut plan, passed earlier this year, that would increase taxes by 20 percent if it were repealed, and that, by opposing construction of a new coal-fired power plant, Democrats effectively tried to raise energy costs.
Democrats opposed the tax plan, saying it has the potential to reduce state revenue dramatically.
Gatewood rebutted the chamber's claims, saying that he voted to lower fees on farmers and supported plans to lower energy costs. "Out of 33 Democrats, when you list who voted with the Democrats most often, I am number 30," Gatewood said.
According to legislative records, Gatewood voted against the tax cuts and against construction of the power plant.
Kultala said the health care attacks are personal to her, given that her family almost declared bankruptcy in the 1990s due to an insurance company's rejection of a costly medical claim. Kultala's husband was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 2 and had an appendectomy in 1995. At the time, the hospital had said it was connected to the diabetes and their insurance company rejected the $25,000 claim on the grounds that it was a pre-existing condition.
"I spent months fighting. I could not get anyone to listen to me," she said, noting the bill was finally covered by insurance. "It was months and months of stress. It was a very difficult time."
Kultala noted that for a period of time, due to her husband's condition, her family did not have health insurance and had to pay the full cost of immunizing their three daughters. She said she wants to give the ACA a shot to see how it works.
Glendening stressed that the Chamber did not know Kultala's personal story before circulating the ad.