Hitting McCaskill Where It Hurts
What began earlier this month as a small story about tax dollars being spent to pay for Sen. Claire McCaskill's (D-Mo.) charter flights has dragged on, evolving into a narrative that could do lasting damage to both McCaskill and Senate Democrats in 2012.
On Monday, McCaskill revealed she owed over $287,000 in back property taxes on the aircraft that has caused her much consternation in recent weeks. Her admission was just the latest development in a story the Show Me State's senior senator can't seem to shake. While it's very early in the cycle, here is a look at why both McCaskill and Democrats should be worried:
1) It cuts against the grain of her good-government image: McCaskill has cultivated a reputation as a figure devoted to standing against corruption. After all, she was the state auditor before she became senator; and has developed a populist brand attacking the excesses of the wealthy. When you embrace the image of being a no-nonsense reformer, this kind of story has even more sticking power.
2) Her ineffectual apology: While it certainly would have been far worse for McCaskill if the news of her back taxes had leaked out, her public acknowledgment will still likely fall short of the mark in the minds of many voters. The personal audit she conducted only came after news that taxpayer dollars had been spent on her travel. Her announcement, apology and willingness to pay the money she owed without hesitation may win her some good will with supporters, but "I have convinced my husband to sell the damn plane" doesn't sound like an overwhelmingly convincing line for the undecided voters McCaskill will so desperately need in 2012.
The economic climate won't help. With unemployment dominating the headlines and the economy still atop the minds of many voters, the image of McCaskill as a jet-setting, tax-avoider will easily stick in peoples' minds, fair or unfair. The story got front-page treatment in the state's two biggest papers, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Kansas City Star.