The Medicare Answer Coming to a GOP TV Ad in Colorado

In the 2014 races, an honest quote can be kryptonite.

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Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) speask about the Supreme Courts recent Hobby Lobby decision, during a news conference on Capitol Hill, July 9, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Senators introduced the Protect Womens Health From Corporate Interference Act, to restore the contraceptive coverage requirement guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

It's thrilling to watch a campaign attack ad be born before your eyes. The Politico-moderated Colorado debate between Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and Republican Rep. Cory Gardner featured an exchange about that old saw (date of birth: 2010) of attacks, that any Democrat who voted for Obamacare "voted to cut $800 billion from Medicare." Udall's spin on the question was immediately clipped and distributed by the GOP tracking firm America Rising.

"Congressman Gardner voted for $800 billion in cuts to Medicare that went to tax cuts," said Udall. "I voted for $800 billion in cuts to Medicare Advantage that went to shoring up Medicare and extending the solvency of it."

Now: Watch that tape. Watch Gardner's face as Udall says he voted for "cuts to Medicare Advantage." This is the cherubic face of a man who knows how a few ill-chosen words can be packaged for TV consumption. (So does moderator Manu Raju, by the look of it.) It takes 3 seconds for Udall to utter that phrase, which can be looped at least 8 times in an ad, allowing for the disclaimer when Gardner approves the message. It can be grey-scaled, or zoomed in on; perhaps some autotuning would make it "pop."

What was Udall thinking? He was describing the situation accurately, always a huge mistake in a Senate debate. The "$800 billion" cuts, formerly known as the "$716 billion" cuts (there are always adjustments), are reductions to future spending on Medicare and Medicare Advantage. Both parties officially assume that those cost reductions will occur -- Democrats voted for it, and Rep. Paul Ryan's budgets have baked the cuts in, assuming that savings will come from their preferred "premium support" Medicare reform and from the Ways and Means committee's tax-writing hocus locus.

Fact checkers have rolled this boulder up the hill countless times, denying that the cost-savings will mean streets strewn with the corpses of the elderly. The boulder always rolls back. In this case, Udall made a classic Kinsley gaffe, saying something true in a manner that can be weaponized against him.

Lots of that going around. In the same debate, Gardner became the umpteenth Republican to cite President Obama's statement, in Illinois, that his "policies are on the ballot." This is basically true, but the preferred Democratic campaign tactic of 2014 is to remind voters that they'll be picking senators to rule for six years, and that Obama guy is only around for two of them. "Obama made it clear his policies are on the ballot," said Gardner, because he could.

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