Over the summer, Marco Rubio’s habit of not showing up for work was a fairly important part of the political conversation, hammered home in debates by Jeb Bush, among others. Pundits were generally unimpressed, though, and the criticisms petered out.
As the first round of voting nears, however, the line of attack is back with a vengeance. Jeb Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise, launched this new ad this morning, which Iowa voters should expect to see a lot of: it’s the basis for a $1.4 million ad buy in the Hawkeye State. For those who can’t watch clips online, here’s the script:
“Days after the Paris attacks, senators came together for a top-secret briefing on the terrorist threat. Marco Rubio was missing – fundraising in California instead. Two weeks later, terrorists struck again in San Bernardino. And where was Marco? Fundraising again – in New Orleans.“Over the last three years, Rubio has missed important national security hearings and missed more total votes than any other senator. Politics first, that’s the Rubio way.”
The spot hits the airwaves today and will run through Jan. 11.
It coincides with a related offensive from Chris Christie, who told an Iowa audience this week that Rubio’s opposition to the omnibus spending bill doesn’t mean much since the senator didn’t show up to vote against it when the bill reached the Senate floor. “Dude, show up to work and vote no,” Christie said to voters, “and if you don’t want to, then quit.”
As a substantive matter, Rubio’s critics have a perfectly valid point. The young Floridian really has skipped a lot of votes, briefings, hearings, and meetings – and while some of this is inevitable for any presidential candidate from either party, Rubio’s national rivals have managed to show up a lot more than he has.
The question is whether or not this is a potent line of attack. Do voters care?
I have to assume that Jeb’s super PAC and Christie’s team have done quite a bit of research on this. I’m not privy to the campaigns’ findings, but these Republicans have extensive polling operations, which are no doubt testing messages with focus groups.
And if regular folks weren’t responding well to the “No-Show Rubio” message, we wouldn’t be hearing about it – and Right to Rise wouldn’t be spending $1.4 million to share the message with Iowans.
It makes me wonder if this is one of those situations in which pundits and voters are on very different pages.
I’ve long made the case that the attendance issue, in general, just isn’t especially important, but I’ll concede that voters who don’t follow Congress at the granular level may have entirely different reactions to these charges. Keep in mind, in 2014, all kinds of candidates – in both parties – faced heated criticism over missed votes and skipped hearings, and many of those candidates ended up losing.
In fact, in North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race, this was practically at the center of the Republican message against then-Sen. Kay Hagan (D). In the campaign’s closing days, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) traveled to North Carolina and specifically focused on Hagan having missed some Senate Armed Services Committee meetings. “Here we are with Americans being beheaded, and Sen. Hagan doesn’t even show up for the briefing,” McCain griped at the time. Hagan lost soon after.
For political insiders, this offensive against Rubio may very well seem like weak tea, but don’t rule out the possibility that commentators and rank-and-file voters perceive this issue in very different ways.