A secretly financed campaign committee, led by Republican über-strategist Karl Rove, attacked Lois Capps over “reckless spending” this week, as Santa Barbara’s embattled congressmember unveiled her own 30-second spot defending her record.

Capps is one of 10 Democratic representatives being targeted, along with a half-dozen incumbent senators, in a $20-million, unusually early strike launched by Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies.

Organized by the famously aggressive Rove (top political adviser to former president George W. Bush) and anonymously funded, the group does not have to identify its contributors because of a 2010 landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance, known as Citizens United.

Its ad began running just days after Capps unveiled her response to an earlier broadside by the Republican’s national congressional campaign committee, one which accused her of trying to “decimate” Medicare by voting for President Barack Obama’s health-reform measure (The Independent, June 30).

“This ad attacking Lois Capps is false!” her spot declares, citing an independent, nonpartisan analysis undercutting the veracity of the GOP claims.

Produced by Capps strategist Bill Carrick, the counterpunch calls out Abel Maldonado and Tom Watson, the two most likely Republican challengers for her seat, questioning their stances on GOP legislation to redesign Medicare, known as the “Ryan Plan.” Sponsored by Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), the plan would remake the popular health-care program for seniors, changing its direct-government-reimbursement system into a voucher-style benefit program for future recipients, though not for those now 55 and older.

Capps “knows that the Ryan plan would end Medicare as we know it,” said Carrick.

Watson, however, said that “the Ryan Plan is the only plan on the table to try and save Medicare.”

“What is radical and irresponsible,” Watson told The Independent, “is what Mrs. Capps proposes to do, which is basically nothing, and then try and scare seniors to gain political points as we speed to certain disaster.”

He also assailed Capps’s support of “Obamacare” and cited actuarial reports on Medicare’s troubled finances in buttressing his support for the Ryan legislation. Watson lost to Capps last year, and he said he is “somewhat likely to run” again in 2012 but has not “officially decided.”

Brandon Gesicki, Maldonado’s campaign manager, did not respond to a request for comment on the Medicare issue.

As a political matter, the sudden eruption of charges and counter-charges in online and cable TV ads — more than 15 months before the election — reflects dramatic changes in the area’s political landscape; Capps’s 23rd District is being redrawn by the state’s once-a-decade reapportionment and is expected to become far more competitive.

As House Republicans threaten to push the government into default in a fight with Obama over spending, the exchanges also demonstrate the increasing ideological polarization in Congress and forecast the huge new role that “independent” committees like Rove’s will play in 2012.

Carrick, noting the nonpartisan group Factcheck.org calls the Rove ad “misleading,” said that “Karl Rove will find out that the independent-minded voters on the Central Coast don’t need any help from him or his Washington cronies telling them how to vote.”

QUICK HITS: The new California Citizens Redistricting Commission has suddenly fallen into disarray. Following its release last month of a draft report outlining new districts, the group abruptly changed its schedule, which originally called for a second full round of public review, and will now release final maps this month. Amid growing controversy about the process, California’s Republican Party is threatening to sue the commission, throwing redistricting into an uncertain future in the courts.

Treasurer Bill Lockyer meanwhile predicts a severe “ripple effect” on state and local government finances, absent a compromise to extend the federal debt ceiling. Economists are warning that global markets could be thrown into chaos without a deal; one local impact would be an instant increase in interest costs for cities and counties.


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