The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reduced its TV ad buy in the 2nd Congressional District race as Democrat Harry Teague is struggling to defend himself against attacks from Republican Steve Pearce related to his company’s cutting of health care for employees.
The DCCC, the campaign arm of Democrats in the U.S. House, has canceled this week’s TV ad buy in the El Paso media market. The group also appears to have increased its buy in the Albuquerque market for the 1st District race between Democrat Martin Heinrich and Republican Jon Barela while scaling back its buy in that market for the 2nd District race.
That means the group plans fewer TV ads in support of Teague and more ads in support of Heinrich.
In the 2nd District, the El Paso market reaches Doña Ana County, which is critical to Teague’s re-election hopes, so the DCCC canceling its ad buy there is significant. The Albuquerque market reaches the rest of the 2nd District, which makes up almost all of Southern New Mexico.
Despite the change, DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen said the group isn’t giving up on Teague, who is locked in what has been one of the hottest House races of this election cycle.
“The DCCC regularly makes adjustments based on the level of outside group activity in the state,” Van Hollen said in a prepared statement. “Based on our assessment on the level of TV advertising in the district, Harry Teague is in a strong position. We are fully invested in Harry Teague’s voter contact efforts and remain confident he will win on election night.”
The Pearce campaign sees it differently.
“The DCCC is realizing what we knew all along,” spokesman Jason Heffley said. “Voters do not want the Teague-Pelosi agenda of out-of-control spending and lost jobs. As voters have compared the two records, they have come to inescapable conclusion that Steve Pearce will create jobs. Harry Teague won’t.”
At least two other third-party groups are running TV ads in support of Teague this week, including Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund.
‘Grasping to keep control of Congress’
On Friday, The Associated Press reported that the DCCC is “grasping to keep control of Congress” and having to make some hard choices about where to spend its money. That includes “turning their backs on some of their staunchest supporters in the House and propping up stronger candidates who have routinely defied them on health care, climate change and other major issues.”
From the article:
“Raw politics – the drive to win a House-majority 218 seats, no matter how – is increasingly trumping policy and loyalty in these decisions, as Democrats shift money and attention in the closing days of the campaign toward races they can win and pull back from those seemingly lost.”
Teague has been one of the most moderate members of Congress in his two years there. He voted with House Democrats in favor of cap and trade, but he voted against the health-care bill.
He represents a GOP leaning seat that, before he was elected in 2008, hadn’t been held by a Democrat in more than two decades.
Pearce’s ads have had an effect
Several sources said recent polls may be a factor in the DCCC’s decision to cut advertising in the 2nd District. There’s been a gradual shift in the polls in the last few weeks toward Pearce, who led by four points in the most recent publicly released poll of the race.
Pearce’s lead was within the margin of error, and the race remains close, sources said, but Pearce has a slight advantage – and Election Day is rapidly approaching.
The shift in the polls has coincided with Pearce’s assault on Teague for cutting health insurance for employees of one of his companies, Teaco Energy. Pearce unveiled a TV ad stating that Teague “took a $3 million bonus from his oil company, then, four days before Christmas, Congressman Teague cut off his employees’ health insurance, leaving his employees, and their families, without the health care they need.”
That set off a series of dueling TV and radio ads and news releases, including this TV ad in which Teague insists that he hasn’t “accepted a penny from our company – no salary, no bonuses, not a penny.” He says in the ad that, because of tough times, the company had to make “tough choices to keep from laying off 200 people.”
The truth is more complicated than either candidate claims. Teague’s 2008 financial disclosure form states that he earned almost $3.4 million in dividend payments (which is different than a bonus) from Teaco Energy that year. But Teague says he reinvested that money in the company to help keep it afloat.
Teague let NMPolitics.net review, but not have copies of, his 2008 tax records. They show that Teaco Energy finished 2008 about $32,000 in the red. The records state that Teague took $415,000 in interest payments from the company in 2008 – but no dividend payment or “bonus” of almost $3.4 million. Overall, Teague and his wife listed their taxable income in 2008 at just over $303,000.
And while it appears to be true that Teague hasn’t taken “a penny” from Teaco Energy since he took office in January 2009, as Roll Call has already reported, there’s more to the story: Teague’s wife Nancy earned a $120,000 salary from the company in 2009.
And in 2009, Teague listed on his financial disclosure form making between $100,000 and $1 million each from two other companies he owns. So while he didn’t take “a penny” from Teaco Energy, he did make money from other companies.
Teague told NMPolitics.net he reinvested that money back into his company. Teaco Energy has had a very difficult couple of years – in fact, Teague attempted to sell the company to his children, but his personal wealth was the only thing keeping the company afloat, so a judge put the sale on hold, he said.
The financial difficulties continue today. Teague showed NMPolitics.net a list of deposits he’s made into Teaco Energy – some as recent as last week – to make payroll. They total more than $2 million to date.
Teague says he’s optimistic
So Teague didn’t accept a $3 million bonus from the company – and apparently also didn’t pocket more than $3 million in dividend payments. It’s true that he notified the approximately 50 employees of Teaco Energy who participated in the health-care plan four days before Christmas in 2009 that they were losing their health care, but their health care didn’t actually end until March 2010.
Regardless, Pearce’s attacks have been effective because they’ve become the entire focus of the race. Teague is on defense.
Teague’s responses have also received some negative press. After he touted quotes from five employees who praised his integrity, The Wall Street Journal wrote about the fact that three of them were co-defendants in a sexual-harassment lawsuit against Teague’s companies that he settled out of court in 2008.
The bottom line: Teague’s re-election chances have taken a hit. The DCCC can say with its words that it’s “confident” in Teague’s re-election chances, but it’s also decided that at least some of its dollars are better spent elsewhere. But the race isn’t over. Teague is still within striking distance.
In the final two weeks of the campaign, both candidates have outside groups spending money to help them. And both have their own money to spend, though Pearce has the advantage on that front: Finance reports filed Friday reveal that Teague had about $740,000 on hand to Pearce’s $886,000.
Teague said he’s still optimistic. Before Nov. 2, he said he’ll keep traveling across the district and talking with people, like he’s done for three years – since he started campaigning for the seat in 2007.
“I feel like I’ve done a good job coming back to the district and representing the people,” he said. “… I’m pretty proud of what we’ve done. We’ve passed a lot of good legislation.”