Americans don’t think lawyers are particularly trustworthy, and just about everyone knows a good lawyer joke. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has taken a notably vocal stance against Republican personal-injury lawyers this year, investing in TV ads bashing three of them who are running against chamber-supported candidates.
In GOP primaries for a Mississippi Senate seat, the North Carolina race for retiring Rep. Mike McIntyre’s seat, and GOP Rep. Mike Simpson’s bid for reelection in Idaho, the chamber has run ads criticizing candidates with backgrounds as personal-injury lawyers, spending a total of $1.4 million in those races, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The tactic is simply in response to an unusual situation, said Rob Engstrom, the chamber’s political director. There usually aren’t many personal-injury lawyers running for Congress as Republicans, he said. The party has generally supported tort reform, including limits to rewards for on-the-job injuries. And as a pro-business conservative organization, the U.S. chamber’s interests align against lawyers who have sued companies for millions of dollars.
“It just so happens we have the opportunity to point out in these races that personal-injury lawyers are not conservative,” Engstrom said. “They spend their careers suing our members.”
The most dramatic opportunity came in North Carolina, when the chamber ran a TV ad comparing Woody White, a Republican, to former Democratic Sen. and vice-presidential nominee John Edwards. Edwards shares little in common with the conservative White — but both are personal-injury lawyers. Edwards was indicted in 2011 on charges relating to alleged campaign finance violations and conspiracy when he covered up an extramarital affair.
“It’s called jackpot justice, and we’ve seen it before with trial lawyers like John Edwards,” the ad’s narrator says. “In search of big paydays, their lawsuits hurt businesses and destroy jobs…. The last thing Congress needs is another trial lawyer like Woody White.”
The ad prompted a rebuke of the national chamber from the Wilmington, N.C., Chamber of Commerce, which said, “Endorsements should be based on a fair representation of the candidate and not perpetuate the pervasive negativity in politics today.”
White lost the nomination on Tuesday to former state Sen. David Rouzer, whose campaign also chimed in on the lawyer theme. Rouzer ran another TV ad saying lawyers like White “argue so much and do so little.” With the help of those ads, Rouzer is now very likely to join Congress in 2015, having won the Republican primary in a very conservative-leaning district.
The other anti-trial-lawyer ads hit on policy substance, hammering two other candidates for opposing tort reform. In Mississippi’s Senate race, the U.S. chamber accused state Sen. Chris McDaniel of arguing against the state’s 2004 tort-reform legislation that capped injury payments at $1 million, citing a 2012 case in which he asked for a $36 million award. McDaniel is running a primary campaign against Republican Sen. Thad Cochran. McDaniel’s campaign responded with a statement saying he has “fought tirelessly for tort reform in the legislature.”
The U.S. chamber’s ad in Idaho took a similar approach, touting Simpson’s support of the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act and saying that challenger (and lawyer) Bryan Smith “stood in the way when conservatives tried to end junk lawsuits in Idaho.”
Engstrom said the focus on personal-injury lawyers doesn’t necessarily reflect a change in voters’ views on lawyers or lawsuits, just that the issue has come up in three races and that he “can’t recall a cycle where it’s been as prevalent.”
“The idea that personal-injury lawyers are conservative is like a bird flying backwards,” Engstrom said.
What We're Following See More »
Despite trailing Hillary Clinton by a significant margin, Bernie Sanders wasn't going the way of Ted Cruz tonight. The Vermont senator upset Clinton in Indiana, with MSNBC calling the race at 9pm. Sanders appears poised to win by a five- or six-point spread.
And just like that, it's over. Ted Cruz will suspend his presidential campaign after losing badly to Donald Trump in Indiana tonight. "While Cruz had always hedged when asked whether he would quit if he lost Indiana; his campaign had laid a huge bet on the state." John Kasich's campaign has pledged to carry on. “From the beginning, I’ve said that I would continue on as long as there was a viable path to victory,” said Cruz. “Tonight, I’m sorry to say it appears that path has been foreclosed."
The Republican establishment's last remaining hope—a contested convention this summer—may have just ended in Indiana, as Donald Trump won a decisive victory over Ted Cruz. Nothing Cruz seemed to have in his corner seemed to help—not a presumptive VP pick in Carly Fiorina, not a midwestern state where he's done well in the past, and not the state's legions of conservatives. Though Trump "won't secure the 1,237 delegates he needs to formally claim the nomination until June, his Indiana triumph makes it almost impossible to stop him. Following his decisive wins in New York and other East Coast states, the Indiana victory could put Trump within 200 delegates of the magic number he needs to clinch the nomination." Cruz, meanwhile, "now faces the agonizing choice of whether to remain in the race, with his attempt to force the party into a contested convention in tatters, or to bow out and cede the party nomination to his political nemesis." The Associated Press, which called the race at 7pm, predicts Trump will win at least 45 delegates.