ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — To hear the negative ads tell it, Democrat Rick Nolan wants to do away with Medicare while Republican Chip Cravaack made constituents pay for face time.
These misleading claims are part of a $2.5 million barrage of campaign commercials funded by outside groups in the past three weeks in northeastern Minnesota's 8th District. Nolan, who served in the House from 1975 to 1981, is challenging Cravaack, a first-term congressman who won in a major upset two years ago.
Both parties and their allies are targeting the race as Democrats try to take control of the chamber.
Groups including the American Action Network, a GOP ally led by former Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, and the Democrat-supporting House Majority PAC, are pumping out sharply negative messages. The attacks suggest that Nolan is a 1970s-era radical who tried to eliminate Medicare and that Cravaack can be bought and sold for wads of cash. That last theme is part of another ad from the AFSCME union that shows piles of cash showering Cravaack.
The American Action Network so far has plowed $486,000 into TV ads attacking Nolan, including one that says, "Under Nolan's plan, Medicare would have ended altogether."
The claim is based on Nolan's support for a 1970s proposal from Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., that would have created a universal national health plan. Far from getting rid of Medicare, the proposal would have supersized it by creating a government-run health care program for all. During the current campaign, Nolan has vowed to preserve Medicare and Social Security, calling them "earned benefits that people have paid for and have every right to expect" in an AP interview in late August.
House Majority PAC's $463,000 attack on Cravaack shows a man in a suit taking a stack of twenties from a woman headed into a meeting, while a voice says, "Instead of town hall meetings, you had to pay to see him."
The accusation that Cravaack charged admission to meetings is false.
Cravaack appeared last year at a Duluth meeting where a business group charged $10 a plate for lunch. But the next day, Cravaack held a free town hall meeting, drawing about 200 people in his district's largest city. The Duluth town hall was one of 29 such gatherings Cravaack held in the expansive 8th District in his first term. Campaign adviser Ben Golnik has defended Cravaack's constituent outreach as "unprecedented."
House Majority PAC dropped the claim in a new anti-Cravaack ad the group started airing Tuesday.
Piles of cash also appear in an ad from AFSCME, which reported spending $535,000 on television commercials to call Cravaack "part of the problem." The union's ad says the first-term Republican took campaign donations from Wall Street while voting against consumer protections.
"Congressman Cravaack looks out for his campaign contributors, but what about the rest of us?" the ad asks.
Cravaack voted in May for legislation that would have stripped the government's authority to dissolve "too big to fail" financial institutions to avoid a Wall Street crisis. It was a small piece of a GOP budget proposal that substituted domestic spending cuts for an automatic cut to defense programs. Campaign finance reports show that Cravaack got $20,000 from the American Bankers Association and smaller amounts from other banking PACs — but those amounts were a sliver of the $1.5 million he had raised through late July.
Cravaack is hitting Nolan on Medicare in a new ad airing in the Duluth TV market. It shows Cravaack standing next to his father and saying, "My opponent believes cutting $700 billion from Medicare won't have an impact on seniors. I disagree."
The claim refers to Nolan's support of the federal health care overhaul, which will cut reimbursements to hospitals, insurers and other providers — but not to seniors.
Nolan campaign manager Mike Misterek strongly disputed the ad's message, adding that Cravaack "enthusiastically supports the Ryan plan, which ends Medicare as we know it."
The new ad from House Majority PAC says, "Chip Cravaack voted to make seniors pay $6,400 a year more for their health care."
Cravaack voted for a budget from Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who would have turned the government-administered health care program into a system where future seniors would get subsidies to buy health insurance. The plan also would have cut $700 billion from Medicare. The $6,400 claim comes from a 2011 Congressional Budget Office report that found that Ryan's proposal would have raised seniors' health care costs.
At a news conference in August, Cravaack described Ryan's plan as "how we are going to save Medicare for future generations."
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney promises to reverse the Medicare cut and let future retirees pick subsidies or a version of the current Medicare program.