Or, as the Review-Journal’s Sebelius put it, you could credibly argue that Heck voted against the crisis center funding. But “then again, one could credibly argue he voted no because he thought $200,000 was too much to spend on exhibits for the California Trail Interpretative Center, or that the Advisory Council for Organic Agricultural Projects was spending too much, or that an oral history of the Nevada Legislature just wasn’t worth $228,056.”
The other claim—about restricting rape victims’ access to abortion—is a bit more complicated, even as journalists here deemed it more outrageous. It stems from Heck’s support for H.R. 3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which sailed through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in 2011 but did not become law. The measure would have blocked women from taking advantage of federal tax or other benefits to pay for abortions—but, as journalists here angrily noted, the bill specifically exempted abortions for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest.
Oceguera’s claim rests on the idea that the prospect of after-the-fact “rape audits,” which some critics of the bill warned about, amount to restricting access. But that claim didn’t fly with journalists here—and even Mother Jones reporter Nick Baumann, whose reporting was cited by Oceguera’s campaign, said the Democrat would have been “on much stronger ground” if Heck had sponsored an earlier version of the bill that explicitly narrowed the definition of rape.
As several media members here have noted, Oceguera’s inflammatory and truth-stretching ad is puzzling, given the material he has to work with on this front. In his column, Sebelius made some sharp points:
Oceguera’s campaign argues Heck has cast other votes that are harmful to women, including votes to take away federal funding for Planned Parenthood. (That organization is prohibited from using federal money to pay for abortions, but federal money is used for myriad other health programs and contraception that helps prevent unwanted pregnancy in the first place.) And that, unlike the H.R. 3 or SB 579 attacks, is a legitimate point.And Hugh Jackson, Crum’s liberal counterpart and co-host on “The Agenda,” had this to say:
The fact is, Heck is pro-life. He’s never hidden that fact. And he’s voted that way since coming to Congress. For those who disagree and feel strongly about that issue, his record will cost him votes.
[T]his effort to chip away at a woman’s right to choose is typically led, the charge is led, by middle-aged, Republican men. And Heck in this up to his eyeballs.
There’s no reason to go where they’ve gone here. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to go after Heck on the issue of women’s health and this [Oceguera] ad misses those marks.
On the other hand, maybe starting a controversy is the point—which means taking some liberties with the truth might be a feature, not a bug. In his post, Ralston offered this interesting and characteristically hard-bitten analysis:
Here’s what I think: Oceguera and friends know they are behind. They don’t care about the media criticism. They revel in it, in fact, and don’t much care about the veracity of the spot. Indeed, the more attention it gets, the more people might believe all of it. And there are plenty of Gross Ratings Points behind it that will more than compensate for us Fourth Estate whiners.
In an email to me, Ralston expanded on his take.
“A charitable view would be that they have deluded themselves into rationalizing it,” he wrote. “In their desperate effort to push female voters away from Heck, they simply are willing to do almost anything, including putting on an ad with false implications and false history to outrage female voters.”
And if that false history, by sparking journalistic outrage, keeps the subject of abortion rights, support for rape victims, and Heck’s voting record in the news, Oceguera might benefit even as he’s facing criticism. It’s something for journalists eager to denounce the ad to keep in mind.
At the same time, this episode does raise some questions for both Oceguera and Heck that I’m still waiting to hear addressed, even after the two met in a televised debate on Oct. 11.