Democrat Joe Donnelly on Thursday refuted a new television ad from Rep. Chris Chocola's re-election committee, calling its claims about Donnelly's views on taxes inaccurate and the work of a "desperate and losing campaign."
Chocola, R-Bristol, stood by the ad's content and framed it as a response to earlier ads attacking the second-term congressman.
"I expect a lot better from you," Donnelly told reporters at a news conference, aiming his message at Chocola, "and I thought a lot better of you before this."
He was responding to the ad that began running this week in the South Bend media market, which includes Elkhart County. The ad accuses Donnelly of supporting higher taxes for middle-class families and small-business owners, assertions Donnelly summed up to early mudslinging in what observers consider a competitive race for Indiana's Second District congressional seat.
"It's sad that in May we have to deal with this negative campaigning," Donnelly said. "These are the tactics of a desperate and losing campaign. It is clear that Mr. Chocola doesn't have anything good that he can say about his own record."
Later, Chocola said in an interview with The Truth that his campaign's ad was meant to counter TV ads and voter phone messages sponsored this spring by the political action group MoveOn.org. The ads, which purported to catch Chocola "red-handed," sought to link him with special interests such as major oil companies that reaped huge profits while average Americans struggled with high gasoline prices.
"I don't characterize it as negative," Chocola said of his own ad targeting Donnelly. "I characterize it as a response ad. Ours is setting the record straight. I've been beat up for five weeks on television" by the MoveOn ads.
Donnelly said his campaign was not responsible for the ads and has never even spoken with MoveOn officials. "We can't because of federal (election) law," he said.
Even if the Donnelly campaign didn't sponsor the ads, it still stood to prosper from them, Chocola said, referring to MoveOn strategists as "Mr. Donnelly's friends."
"MoveOn isn't advocating my election. They're advocating his election," Chocola said.
Donnelly repeated Thursday that he is willing to work with Chocola to keep groups from outside the district from influencing the race -- a rematch of the 2004 election -- as long as Chocola avoids using campaign money from the "big oil" or pharmaceutical industries.
During his news conference, Donnelly often raised his voice in taking issue with the Chocola campaign's portrayal of him as an advocate of higher taxes.
He cited published newspaper stories of his statements supporting permanent tax cuts for all but the top 1 percent of U.S. workers and tax credits for small businesses that create new jobs.
"I want to keep taxes as low as we can on family farmers, small-business folks and working families," he said.
Chocola disagreed. He said Donnelly publicly opposed a recent business tax cut that Chocola voted for.
"You can say whatever you want, but when it comes time to vote, you have to be willing to support lower taxes," Chocola said. "I don't think there's any question he supports higher taxes."
Donnelly said some polling indicates he is in a dead heat with Chocola, after losing by 9 percentage points to the congressman in 2004.
He challenged Chocola to offer solutions to such issues as Iraq, immigration and the federal deficit rather than continue to sponsor ads criticizing Donnelly.