Kuhl’s Strategy: I’m Mr. Local, We Had Change Two Years Ago

Randy Kuhl is a Republican, and he’s in congress, two groups not enjoying high public approval ratings.

But Kuhl, whose 29th district includes the city of Rochester and parts of upstate New York, has successfully framed his re-election campaign as one of a local versus an outsider.

The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle picked up the theme, saying Kuhl’s Democratic challenger, Eric Massa, whom the paper endorsed in 2006, now is “a walking briefing book” and that “his connection to constituents is less clear, less developed. He’s a big picture guy in a district with small-picture needs.”

In an interview last night, Kuhl’s campaign manager made it clear that the local vs. outsider theme isn’t going away anytime soon.

“It’s all been about local issues. And I think the biggest contrast that we have here is that Congressman Kuhl is a lifelong resident here,” said Kuhl campaign manager, Justine Stokes. And they’re not banking on a large number of Republican voters coming out for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

“It’s not necessarily about coattails or what’s going on with the national party,” Stoke said.

Stoke returned to the local theme, and sought to undermine Massa’s fund-raising advantage this quarter, by
criticizing him for taking money from “those not as familiar with the area,“ like Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, and Representative Charlie Rangel of Harlem.

In this campaign finance quarter (July 1 to September 30), Massa raised $65,269.98, compared to Kuhl, who raised $280,508.50. To date, Massa has raised $1,661,992.49, compared to Kuhl’s $1,252,463.99. So far, Massa has $401,061 o hand. Kuhl has $374,722.

“So, I think it’s clear from our perspective that he’s taken money from people who are not as familiar with the area. The position that we’ve held is he will walk in lock-step with these folks when he gets to congress because, if you’re a freshman member of congress, and you’re party is in the majority, and they need you’re help on a vote, and they’ve given you a lot of money, and they’ve hosted a fund-raiser for you, whenever they give you a call, you’re going to have to answer that call, and it doesn’t really matter what he says about being an independent voice. I just don’t think he has the roots or connections to the area to put aside those demands from the leaders of his party.”

Stoke said, “I think people, at the end of the day, they don’t appreciate when outsiders come in and tell them what to do with their vote.”

Massa’s campaign manager, Justine Schall, said Kuhl is focusing on his candidate’s local roots as a way of deflecting away from his close association with President Bush and National Republicans.

“He didn’t go the conventions,” Schall said of Kuhl. “Every time he’s had a Republican leader in state, they don’t do press. They only do fund-raising. He runs around saying how he’s not a bush rubber stamp, but he voted 95 percent of the time with Bush. I mean, he can run, but he can’t hide from his voting record.”

Schall referred to Kuhl’s support of Bush’s bills dealing with the federal budget, social security,  and, most recently, his support of the amended Wall Street bailout legislation.

But Kuhl’s campaign isn’t entirely shying away from national themese. But they are employing it in an unexpected way. Stokes embraced the message of “change,” which has fueled Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, and threw it back at Democrats.

“I think what a lot of people understand is we got change two years ago when Democrats took over congress. For people in upstate New York, they pay among the highest taxes in the country: in property taxes, income taxes,” said Schull.

“In an election year where, I think, a lot of people have been convinced that they need change, I think they’re looking at this race and saying, ‘You know what, maybe we don’t need to change people just for the sake of changing the person holding this office.” He added, “Change just for the sake of change is not always good change.” Kuhl’s Strategy: I’m Mr. Local, We Had Change Two Years Ago