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Ernst Lies, Gardner Won’t Answer Questions, and Other Tales From This Koch-fueled Election

Every election has some strangeness to it, some quirks that make old pols like me shake our heads and say “really?” But this one could be the strangest of all. Just when you think a race is on the verge of being written off, a whole new set of polls comes out to show it is tight as can be — the Senate races in Georgia, Kentucky, and most recently, Alaska, are all cases in point. Democrats that everyone thought would be safe at the beginning of the cycle, like Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, are in real danger. Heavily Republican states like Kansas and South Dakota have become wildly unpredictable battlegrounds. What has seemed at times like a predictably Republican year has over 20 different Senate and governor races too close to call less than a week from Election Day. Will we find ourselves surprised next Tuesday night? The odds are definitely in favor of pundits being embarrassed. What is highly predictable is the massive spending by the Koch brothers’ front groups and others of their ilk. It seems to have no end. And of course, it is also no surprise that the candidates being helped by them doing their best to pretend there is no connection. My organization, American Family Voices, supports the work of grassroots journalist Lauren Windsor, and she has been on the road in four battleground states with Koch-fueled Senate candidates, all of whom spoke at the infamous Koch retreat with other billionaires at a California resort last June. Lauren managed to get all of them to answer at least a couple of questions, and the level of evasion and obfuscation was impressive even to me, who has been watching candidates evade and obfuscate for 35 years. The biggest moment in her tour was when Joni Ernst, the Republican candidate the Kochs picked from absolute obscurity more than a year ago and made into a viable candidate, blatantly lied about having any contact at all with the outside groups, which are mostly funded by the Kochs. In fact, the two groups most closely aligned with the Kochs — Freedom Partners and Americans for Prosperity — have already spent over $4.25 million in Iowa, according to Here’s a short video that summarizes just how blatant the Ernst lie was...

No contact? Not only was she on a panel at the conference officially co-hosted by Freedom Partners and AFP that talked about the need to raise money for those groups ad campaigns, the audio makes clear that she had attended at least one other Koch conference a year before, when she was a completely unknown state Senator with about 1 percent of the vote in a multi-candidate field. The Kochs picked her to be their candidate, groomed her, funded her, and — as Ernst herself said — started her “trajectory.” That’s an awful lot of “contact,” if you ask me. Then there’s Cory Gardner, the Republican Senate candidate in Colorado. When Lauren showed up to ask him specifics about what he would cut out of the federal budget, rather than answering the question, he got paranoid about someone asking him such a direct question, repeatedly asking her, “Who are you with?” And then Gardner just flat out refused to answer the question. Given how strongly he proclaimed he wanted to cut the federal budget, he sure seemed panicky about having to answer questions about those cuts...

In Arkansas, Tom Cotton vehemently claimed he would not cut Social Security or Medicare. Yet he voted for the Ryan budget, which privatizes and slashes the hell out of Medicare. And he enthusiastically embraced the Kochs’ agenda while partying with them at that resort in California, an agenda that has for several decades included cutting and privatizing Social Security. As to a question about why he went to the Koch conference at all, Cotton avoided that like the plague...

Finally, in Kentucky, Lauren asked Mitch McConnell about something he promised the Kochs and the other billionaires in California in his speech, which is that he would work to deregulate Wall Street. McConnell, while lying about whether he would support the deregulation he had promised and has supported his entire career, resorted to glib sloganeering: Dodd-Frank is “Obamacare” for banks...

The lies, the evasion, the phobic avoidance — it would all be pretty entertaining if the stakes weren’t so high. But they are, indeed: McConnell promised the Kochs and their billionaire friends that the Senate just wouldn’t debate proposals to help low and middle income folks like minimum wage, unemployment comp, and student loans, and that he would help Wall Street, big oil and coal companies, and health insurance companies by attaching riders to budget bills to force deregulation of those industries. The biggest question of this election is whether the Republicans will win control of the Senate, so that McConnell can work his magic for his billionaire friends. But right behind that in importance is this inextricably linked question: Do the Koch candidates win their incredibly close elections? The biggest investments (as they call them) the Kochs have made are in Senate races in North Carolina, Louisiana, Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Colorado and of course to support their loyal follower McConnell in Kentucky. And they have made winning the governor races in Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Nebraska, Kansas, and Arizona a huge priority as well. And pretty much all of these races are too close to call. Will the Kochs win this election? Stay tuned. This election will keep us on the edge of our seats right up until the end.

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