Under fire from GOP super PAC, House Democrats launch counteroffensive

Having seen more than 40 of their local candidates targeted by a Republican super PAC in recent weeks, House Democrats on Monday launched a counteroffensive aimed at neutralizing the conservative group’s impact on tight races.

In a series of radio advertisements and mailings, the Vermont Democratic House Campaign and Vermont House Solidarity PAC chides “Vermonters First” for contaminating local politics with outside money.

Fueled by nearly $700,000 from a single donor, Vermonters First has used radio ads and glossy mailings to target local Democratic candidates that, according to the super PAC, want to expand the sales tax and revoke Medicare.

With a mass media budget of only about $10,000, Nick Charyk, head of the Vermont Democratic House Campaign, says he won’t be able to come close to matching the expenditures made by Vermonters First. But he says Democrats couldn’t let the GOP campaign go uncontested.

“In a perfect world I wouldn’t spend any money on this sort of broad messaging,” Charyk said Monday. “But after four rounds of these mailings, the last of which targeted my folks by name, it became clear we had to do something to counter this message.”

Mailings headed to voters in select districts are graphically almost indistinguishable from the anti-Democratic versions produced by Vermonters First.

“I wanted people to read our mailing with those (Vermonters First) pieces in mind,” Charyk said.

Whereas the Vermonters First mailings rail against the ills of “one party rule,” however, Charyk’s version touts the virtues of nonpartisanship.

“When Irene hit, we came together as Vermonters to rebuild our state,” reads a quote on the mailing from House Spaker Shap Smith. “In the Legislature, it didn’t matter if you were a Republican or a Democrat. We were all in it together.”

To underscore the message, the other side of the mailing features a quote from House Minority Leader Don Turner in which he praises Smith’s work during the redistricting process earlier this year.

“We really appreciate the effort of the majority leadership, and the speaker, to allow us to work with them to obtain a reasonable resolution to the redistricting puzzle,” says the quote from Turner, a Milton Republican. “We’re thankful that we were able to work together.”

The mass media offensive also includes four radio spots, one of which features Smith.

“This election season we have seen some misleading ads that claim to represent everyday Vermonters,” Smith says in the spot. “Since our first town meeting, Vermont has been a state where everyone’s voice is heard. Your vote is your voice – don’t let it be drowned out by big money this Election Day.”

It was the first-ever radio ad for Smith, who says claims being made by Vermonters First “aren’t something you want to leave unrebutted.”

For more on the Dem campaign, check out tomorrow’s editions of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald.