Today's Power Play: How Kentucky Democrat's Ad is a Danger to His Party and Obama

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Even in season with some of the most shockingly negative political ads in memory, one spot in Kentucky's Senate race is sending aftershocks throughout the national political scene.

Democratic Senate candidate Jack Conway has a new ad up in Kentucky that questions Republican Rand Paul's professed Christianity:

"ANNOUNCER: Why was Rand Paul a member of a secret society that called the Holy Bible "a hoax", that was banned for mocking Christianity and Christ?ANNOUNCER: Why did Rand Paul once tie a woman up, tell her to bow down before a false idol, and say his god was ‘Aqua Buddha'?ANNOUNCER: Why does Rand Paul now want to end all federal faith-based initiatives and even end the deduction for religious charities?ANNOUNCER: Why are there so many questions about Rand Paul?"

The ad refers to Paul's membership in a group of pranksters while an undergraduate at Baylor University 26 years ago. The group, which seemed to be a cross between a fraternity and an improv troupe, was dedicated to tweaking the Baptist establishment that ran Baylor.

Other than that, Conway offers no reason to think that Paul and his wife aren't the Presbyterians they profess to be. The emphasis on public expressions of faith at Paul events has even made some libertarians squeamish.

Even in a campaign year in which we've seen challengers attacked as "Taliban," this is a pretty shocking allegation, especially in a state that values faith so much.

The Associated Press went back and talked to 1,800 Obama supporters from 2008 and found that a quarter had turned away from the president and were leaning toward Republicans this fall.

This quote is fairly typical:

"I was hoping we'd get some more civility up in government. That was implicit in his promise, along with some change. It turns out that he was driving more toward the changes rather than civility," said Gerry D. Kramer, 70, of Georgetown, Texas.

While the president no doubt wants to see his party succeed this fall, the damage to his brand wrought by leading a party that is running ads so deeply negative and divisive is no doubt significant.

President Obama and his political team have been talking mostly about who pays for ads rather than what's in them. And even there, the Obama brand is in some trouble.

Many groups with, as the White House would say, "shadowy" donors, are working very hard to keep Democrats in power. Groups like America's Families First Action Fund and others are spending millions to protect incumbents.

But Senior White House Adviser David Axelrod essentially said that the oft-expressed concerns over ad funding, especially that the Chamber of Commerce was "a threat to Democracy," were just election-year hyperbole.

Asked on "State of the Union" whether he had any problems about the 14 Democratic House candidates and one Democratic Senate candidate who had the Chambers' backing, Axelrod said flatly "no" and then said how he wished the Chamber and the administration could work together on implementing the Dodd-Frank bank bill.

Even on the issue of disclosing campaign funds, the Obama campaign has some exposure. Recall that in 2008, the Obama campaign declined to make public available information on the donors under the $200 level even after it was revealed that donors like "Good Will" of Austin, Texas (occupation: "loving you") and Doodad Pro had used credit cards online to make small donations that taken together were far in excess of legal campaign limits.

Republicans wanted Obama to disclose his donors, suggesting that there was no restriction on foreign donations and a chance for real mischief in low-level donations. Obama opted out of federal matching funds and the financial reporting limits that come with them, and his campaign refused to divulge the small donor information.

When Obama is deep in the throes of his reelection campaign, he comes to regret the strategy of convenience he has lately adopted of decrying donors and political spending. Talking about the messengers instead of the message won't likely work any better for Democrats in 2010 than it did for Republicans in 2008, but it will make Obama more susceptible to questions about campaign funding in 2012.

But the Conway ad may be even more dangerous to Obama.

If Obama allows a party-backed Democrat to spend party-raised money on an attack ad that directly doubts an opponent's public professions of faith, he will have less moral authority to denounce any similar attack on himself.

With so much uncertainty in the electorate about Obama's own religious views - recall the August Pew survey that found 18 percent believe Obama is a Muslim and 43 percent were uncertain of his faith - the president can ill afford to leave the door open to these kinds of attacks.

While Republicans may be right that if Conway is running an ad based on the 1984 hijinks of his opponent, his campaign must be in sire shape and that the ad will likely do more damage to Conway.

But Power Play knows a dangerous precedent when it sees one. And if Democrats are getting into the business of publicly questioning their political opponents religious beliefs, that could be very dangerous indeed.

Thanks to today's Power Play Crew: Kimberly Schwandt, L.A. Holmes, Heidi Noonan, Gretchen Gailey and Tracey Bree.


The Day in Quotes

"The empire is striking back."

-- President Obama at an Ohio State University rally decrying the political activities of independent groups.

"[He is] the love of my life, though he doesn't always think it."

-- First lady Michelle Obama seeking to reassure her husband as she introduced him at an Ohio fundraiser.

"Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we're hard-wired not to always think clearly when we're scared. And the country's scared."

-- President Obama at a Boston fundraiser Saturday night analyzing the problem with voters.

"I'm not associated with her. She's the speaker, but I'm an independent voice."

-- Rep. Ike Skelton, (D-MO) declining to say whether he would vote again to make Nancy Pelosi speaker of the House.

"He has said before he is not comfortable with much of Nancy Pelosi's politics, or with the direction the administration is going."

-- Randy Coleman, spokesman for West Virginia House Democratic candidate Mike Oliverio, telling the Wheeling News-Register that if elected, Oliverio would work to defeat Pelosi inside the Democratic caucus but would support his party's choice, whomever it is.

"They said, 'It could have been worse, we did pass health care reform, we did pass financial services industry reform.' Those arguments don't do much to confront what is a building momentum in the opposite direction."

-- Former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NE), who formerly led the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, to the Associated Press explaining how Democratic policy initiatives have not addressed voters' economic concerns.

"I think attacking the outside money, and specifically attacking the Chamber, is of very limited value to the White House."

Former Rep. Martin Frost (D-TX), who formerly led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as quoted by The Hill.

"You can choose who your partner is. I think that birth has an influence, like alcoholism and some other things. But I think that, basically, you have a choice."

-Colorado Senate candidate Ken Buck (R) on whether being gay is a choice, on NBC "Meet the Press"

"Sharron Angle's going to win that race. I'll make that prediction right here, right now."

-- Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, on "FOX News Sunday."

"Come election night, I think we will retain control of the House and Senate."

-- White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on "Meet the Press"

"She's had a lot of power in these primaries. People on our side like Sarah. She talks in a way they can understand."

-- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on "Face the Nation" explaining why Sarah Palin is "toying" with a run for president.

"Now where I come from, we call a 2-inch fish, we call that bait."--Sarah Palin, referring to Sen. Barbara Boxer's efforts to protect the tiny, endangered delta smelt by denying water to farmers, at a California rally.

He Said, She Said

Howard Dean: "We don't want the right wing buying elections."

Liz Cheney: "You just want the left wing buying elections?"

-- "Face the Nation"

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Obama's Day - The Lady Leads

First lady Michelle Obama is the lead player on the White House campaign team again today, heading to Connecticut to headline two events for Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal.

In the evening, she will attend a fundraising dinner for the Democratic National Committee in New York.

President Obama is choppering out to suburban Rockville, Md. for another big money fundraiser - his 60th of the year, according to CBS' Mark Knoller.

And proving that Vice President Biden is not afraid to take risks on the campaign trail, Biden heads to Bethlehem, Pa. to headline a fundraiser for John Callahan, a Democrat challenging Republican Rep. Charlie Dent.

Democrats had once hoped to cut into Republican House gains by flipping this district, which also includes Bethlehem and Easton and went for President Obama by a 13-point margin in 2008. A poll out this weekend from Muhlenberg College shows Dent with a 17-point lead.

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Trail Riders - Foreign PACs Prefer Dems; Kirk Talks to FOX, Frank's Man No Fan of Bielat

Follow the Money -- Foreign PACs Prefer Dems

Democratic candidates have taken in twice as much foreign money as their Republican counterparts according to a new study by the Center for Responsive Politics published by The Hill.

Political Action Committees affiliated with foreign corporations have given Democrats $1.02 million through their American employees this cycle compared to $510,000 for Republicans.

Politics on FOX Today

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) will be on "America's Newsroom with Martha McCallum and Bill Hemmer" in the 10 a.m. hour to discuss his Senate candidacy.

Utah Republican House candidate Morgan Philpot will be on "Your World with Neil Cavuto" in the 4 p.m. hour.

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R-VA) will be "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" in the 10 p.m. hour.

Follow the Money -- Angle Spent $12 Million to Raise $14 Million

Sharron Angle's jaw-dropping fundraising total for the third quarter comes with an equally-jaw dropping amount of overhead. Eighty six percent of the $14 million was sucked up by direct mail marketers and others who she hired for her fundraising team.

Angle and opponent Harry Reid are now essentially tied in cash on hand.

Poll Check - Sinecure Alert

Washington Post: 52 Percent of Adults think Federal Employees are Overpaid; 33 percent Think It's "About Right"

If You Eat Dinner at 4 p.m., Why Not Vote in October?

Early voting begins today in Florida. Half of all ballots cast in the state may come before Election Day.

Follow the Money -- Fundrace is Closing

"In the 112 House races The New York Times has identified as competitive, Republican candidates raised $53 million combined [from July through September], compared with $48 million raised by their Democratic rivals. It was a stark reversal from previous quarters, in which Democrats held a commanding fund-raising advantage. Republicans raised more money than their Democratic counterparts in just under half of the races in play....The New York Times analysis of competitive races showed that Democrats have a cash-on-hand advantage in two-thirds of the races in play. On average, Democratic House candidates in competitive races have about $475,000 in the bank, compared with less than $370,000 for Republicans. That money could prove crucial in last-minute advertising and voter drives."

- From today's New York Times.

Political Ads Boost Local TV

Political ad spending on broadcast TV rose this year to $1.23 billion through the week ended Oct. 10, according to an analysis by Wells Fargo. The report said the $148 million shelled out during that week was the most for any week this year, surpassing the $145 million spent in the week ended Sept. 19. With a host of competitive races, ad-tracker Campaign Media Analysis Group expects total ad outlays this election season to reach $3 billion.

Standing By His Man

Video taken by the Boston Herald after the debate between Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Republican challenger Sean Bielat seems to show Frank's significant other, James Ready, posing as a photographer and heckling Bielat as he speaks with reporters.

Conservative bloggers Flemming and Hayes say they spotted Ready in the video harassing Bielat. Ready's identity has been subsequently confirmed by other sites.