TOPEKA — U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt's latest television ad all but confirmed that he trails fellow Kansas Republican and U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran in their race for the U.S. Senate and even suggested Tiahrt may be significantly behind Moran.
Tiahrt's campaign scoffed earlier this month when Moran's campaign released internal poll numbers showing Moran with a big lead as the two campaign for the GOP nomination. But when Tiahrt began broadcasting his TV ad last week, its tone and tactics suggested a candidate who needed to cut into his opponent's lead.
The ad describes Moran as someone who's pretending to be a fiscal conservative while voting repeatedly for tax increases and someone who's willing to betray fellow Republicans to vote with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats. It featured six votes.
Five of those six votes predate Moran's time in Congress. He cast them as a state legislator in the early 1990s, as he and his colleagues at the Statehouse struggled to deal with Kansans' frustration with local property taxes.
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Tiahrt and his campaign contend the votes are relevant now because they demonstrate that Moran has a long pattern of moderate and even liberal votes. His actions, they argue, contradict the image Moran has fashioned for himself in his own ads of a friendly and approachable congressman with a consistently conservative record.
"We're in the process of showing Kansans who the man behind the smile is," Tiahrt said in a recent interview.
Moran's campaign said it expected Tiahrt to attack, but Tiahrt's willingness to go so far back into the past smacked to Moran's supporters of desperation.
"If you're behind, then you've got no choice but to dig up stuff from two decades ago," said Steve Cloud, a prominent GOP moderate from Lenexa, a former Republican National Committee member who's backing Moran over Tiahrt. "I think he knows he's behind."
Tiahrt and Moran are seeking the seat held by U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican who's giving it up to run for governor this year. The primary is Aug. 3.
Moran first won the seat for the 1st Congressional District of western and central Kansas in 1996, after serving eight years in the Kansas Senate.
Tiahrt narrowly lost a race for the Kansas House in 1990, won a Senate seat in 1992 and won the seat for the 4th Congressional District of south-central Kansas in 1994.
Moran continues to hold a big advantage in fundraising, having stockpiled almost $3.5 million in cash at the end of March to about $1.5 million for Tiahrt.
In his ad, Tiahrt points to a 2003 vote by Moran against
a GOP version of a resolution establishing the outlines of the federal budget.
Tiahrt noted that Moran was one of only 12 Republicans who joined Pelosi and almost all of her fellow Democrats in voting against it; Tiahrt backed it. The plan assumed temporary tax cuts championed by then-President Bush would become permanent. Thus, Tiahrt argues, a vote against the resolution was a vote in favor of raising taxes.
Moran said he voted multiple times for Bush's tax cuts and more than 200 times during his congressional career to reduce taxes. Later, campaign spokesman Dan Conston sent AP a copy of a short column Moran wrote after the vote, saying the budget resolution would have allowed too much spending.
"Many of my fellow conservative colleagues often say that by cutting taxes, we reduce the size of government," Moran wrote. "But this is only true if the government spends less when it has less to spend."
Tiahrt's ad also cited votes Moran made as a state senator in 1991 and 1992 against bills to exempt municipal airport property from taxes and in 1991 and 1993 against renewing restrictions on local governments' ability to increase property taxes. All four bills passed by wide margins, with most GOP state senators in favor.
The other legislative vote cited by Tiahrt was in 1991, when Moran supported a bill raising the state's sales and income taxes, a measure vetoed by then-Gov. Joan Finney, a Democrat. The additional revenue would have gone to public schools, with the goal of keeping their property taxes down.
Moran's campaign unearthed a 1990 newspaper story in which Tiahrt, then a candidate for the Kansas House, is quoted as saying he'd support a sales tax increase to buy down local property taxes.
Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political scientist, said such history is relevant to voters if it hasn't been thoroughly examined in past campaigns. Moran had a relatively easy time winning his seat in Congress and 1996 and even less trouble keeping it since then.
"No matter how old the vote or point may be, it's 'new' news to the voters and therefore fair game for the candidates," Beatty said. "This is especially true in a Senate race, which is statewide, with so many voters outside of the candidates' congressional districts only having a general idea of the candidate."
Tiahrt needs Kansas Republicans to agree with him that there is no statute of limitations in politics when it comes to old votes if he's to overcome Moran.